By Edward Davis | The Playlist May 11, 2012 at 12:22PM
Let's try and keep this brief, shall we? Two actors dropped out of Quentin Tarantino's would-be subversive Western cum slave epic "Django Unchained" this week -- to be more exact, the news of these two actors dropping out of the film came out this week. Presumably this actually happened a while ago. Sacha Baron Cohen had to exit the film to do press for his upcoming comedy, "The Dictator," and he and his people surely gave Tarantino and the producers a heads up about this, so it came as no sudden surprise.
Kurt Russell also dropped out of "Django Unchained" although his reasons are more nebulous, with some rumors claiming he stormed off set and quit, presumably because the material was too controversial. However, this posit seems rather ridiculous as Russell obviously read the script and knew what was involved (though apparently there are dubious eye witness accounts of the actor being on set; did he have a change of heart while actually having to play one of the backwood bigoted hillbillies in the movie?)
Some operating from a distant level have shown concern. "Two major actors dropped out!!!" they exclaim. Could something be wrong with the production? Worry and concern is clearly creeping into the movie blogosphere.
But here's a reason why you shouldn't fret (and you may have got a sense of this if you read our casting suggestions piece based on the script way back when). While fanboys never want to admit that Tarantino is anything less than perfect at all times, these two incidents may be the best two things to happen to "Django Unchained" since it was announced. Clocking in at almost 270 pages (approx 2hrs 45 min), the screenplay -- unlike the similarly long "Inglourious Basterds," which rightfully did earn itself a Best Original Screenplay nomination -- Tarantino's slave picture (which is essentially just another revenge picture) is undisciplined, unwieldy and epically long.
There are lots of tangents and detours, and fat does need to be trimmed from this script. Moreover, both Russell and Cohen's parts were small, and at this juncture there likely won't be recasting so don't get your hopes up for the return of Kevin Costner (who was originally pegged to play Russell's character). While Cohen was likely being a little modest when he called his role a "cameo" it was a rather brief sub-plot, so if it's been excised entirely as some have speculated, this isn't a bad thing. Additionally, rumors that allege Walton Goggins' character has absorbed the parts of Kurt Russell's character makes total sense: "Django Unchained" is littered with A, B and C sub-villains (almost all of them white, cowboy/slave owner/hillbilly types from the south) that tend to blur together. Ditching one of them can't hurt at all. In fact, it only helps. So two actors drop out and this potentially super-promising film gets shorter and more focused? Great, this is exactly what it needs. Don't be concerned or worried. In fact, be happy, as this is exactly what the doctor ordered. "Django Unchained," the already wisely tightened version, hits theaters on Christmas Day later this year.