There is no more awesome movie star that Leonardo DiCaprio. He’s made flicks with Spielberg, Scorsese, Eastwood, James Cameron and Ridley Scott, and it was DiCaprio whom Christopher Nolan called on for an “Inception” break from Batman movies. DiCaprio has faced off against Russell Crowe, Jack Nicholson, Tom Hanks, and Daniel Day-Lewis. You can’t make up a guy as cool as DiCaprio – HBO tried it with “Entourage” and wasn’t even close.
But it was Quentin Tarantino who let him be bad, and he plays the hell out of Calvin Candie, the smirking, scowling man-child plantation owner who cuts his hand and rubs the blood into Django’s wife’s face in “Django Unchained.”
Tarantino is creating classic movie villains consistently now, and we should consider how he’s doing it. His writing decisions are interesting and incredibly brave. Hans Landa in “Inglourious Basterds” happily touted himself as “The Jew Hunter.” “If a rat were to walk in here as I’m talking,” he asks a man stashing Jews beneath the floor boards, “would you greet it with a saucer of your delicious milk?” His rant is epic, and chilling, and concludes with cold-blooded machine gun death for the family in the floor.
Christoph Waltz is brilliant in that role. He is a charming, chatty, slithery member of the Nazi party, perpetrators of some of the worst crimes in human history. Naziism is the soil from which Tarantino grew Hans Landa, and “Inglourious Basterds” is a revenge fantasy where Jews blast and explode Adolph Hitler.
That’s a good place to go for revenge plot, if you’ve got the granite nuts of Tarantino.
Of course he went from the Holocaust to slavery. And of course, once again, he grew a perfect bad guy. Calvin Candie’s cotton plantation is called Candyland. Before we meet Candie, the bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz tells Django the German fairy tail about a princess named Broomhilda, placed atop a mountain surrounded by hellfire, guarded by a fire-breathing dragon. When they finally get to Candyland, fire is everywhere. The first time we meet Calvin Candie, he’s watching a bloody mandingo fight happening right in front of a fire burning in a fireplace. He’s into it, yelling and cheering as the slaves scream and gouge eyes.
As the characters interact in this scene, Candie keeps alternating between steely stares and near giggles. He’s slyly charming, and because he’s written by Tarantino he gets to say things like “Roscoe, a beer for the man with the beard and I will have a Polynesian pearl diver, do not spare the rum.” Later, he sweet talks a runaway slave before letting dogs tear that slave to pieces.
And then there’s the dinner scene. “Django Unchained” is going to be remembered for this amazing dinner scene, when so much tension builds as motivations on all sides are unveiled. Imagine being DiCaprio, playing your first bad guy after all these years in film, and you get Samuel L. Jackson standing right beside you as your goofy sidekick, laughing at all your jokes and backing you up the whole way. It looks like so much fun.
The tension piles highest when Candie realizes what Django and Schultz are up to. He brings out a skull, which used to be a slave named Ben. Ben shaved his dad with a straight razor every day. “Why don’t they kill us?” he asks the room. Then he violently saws the skull apart and explains the physical aspects of black people’s brains that makes them submissive.
Then he says to Django, and this when all the truths come out, “Now Brightboy, I will admit you are pretty clever. But if I took this hammer here, and I bashed in your skull with it, you would have the same three dimples, in the same place, as old Ben here.” Then his henchman bursts through the door with a shotgun, and Calvin lets out a furious, sustained scream aimed directly at Schultz and Django. During the ensuing dialogue, Candie grabs Django’s wife, slams her head onto the table, and threatens to smash it with the hammer.
This man is so bad. But then, that’s slavery.
Of course the end is where everything explodes in grand style. Schultz can’t get over watching dogs tear that poor man apart, so even though he ultimately gets what he wants (Django’s wife freed), he kills Candie because, he says, “I couldn’t resist.” F*ck that guy. Glorious shootouts and explosions commence, but Schultz shooting Candie is the catharsis. DiCaprio is so good in the role that it’s thrilling to watch him, and richly satisfying to see him gunned down in his own parlor.
Waltz, jumping from the Jew Killer to dentist/bounty hunter, won his second Oscar in a row for a Tarantino movie. Hard to argue, because of his bright-eyed humor and complicated humanity as Dr. Schultz. But even if he gives the best performance in the movie, it isn’t the most interesting. DiCaprio must have been so grateful to play this psycho bad guy. Tarantino gives movie stars such sweet material to chew on.
Time to call Day-Lewis.