Warning: This piece contains spoilers from Django Unchained. However, make sure to scroll down and cast a vote for your favorite Leonardo DiCaprio performance.
There are very few actors in the industry who continue to demonstrate their true potential; one of them is Leonardo DiCaprio. In my opinion, Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the finest actors from this generation. He continues to craft some truly remarkable performances which are added to his endless portfolio in acting. The Oscarless actor is renowned for several iconic roles, but which one stands out as his best?
In a resume that expands an extensive acting career, I’m spoiled for choice in picking my favorite DiCaprio performance. However, my personal favorite would have to be in Django Unchained. Critically acclaimed director Quentin Tarantino released his controversial and unique feature back in 2012. It featured a phenomenal casting, which included the likes of Jamie Foxx as the titular character and a show-stealing performance by Christopher Waltz. Furthermore, this list wouldn’t be complete without Samuel L. Jackson returning for a Tarantino feature. I thought Waltz was terrific in the film, but DiCaprio’s performance as Calvin Candie was remarkable.
The plot centers itself around the slave trade in the United States of America during 1858. Schultz (Waltz) is a bounty hunter who releases Django (Foxx) during the opening of the title. Django is determined to find what happened to his wife Broomhilda. Shultz discovers that Broomhilda is currently being held as a slave to a man by the name of Calvin Candie. The two travel to meet Candie and on route, devise a scheme in which they can retrieve Broomhilda.
Calvin Candie is the owner of Candyland – a plantation where slaves are forced to fight each other in death matches called ‘Mandingo Fights.’ Calvin shows a clinical, mischievous, and sinister persona that continues to develop throughout the character’s on-screen time. He demonstrates how deceptive he can truly be, in particular, when they confront one of his runaway slaves; who he assures is important to him. Once the slave climbs down from the tree, he unleashes a pack of wild dogs on him – which in terms of a Tarantino film – leads to him being teared apart in a violent manner. This is a clear warning sign being sent to Django and Shultz, by letting them know that he is strict and ruthless when it comes to business. DiCaprio’s performance creates an outstanding villain in the film who has a truly menacing personality. I was extremely disappointed when DiCaprio wasn’t nominated for Best Supporting Actor Oscar alongside Waltz. Personally, Waltz deserved the award for his role as Shultz but, I feel like DiCaprio should have been nominated too.
The truly chilling moment of DiCaprio’s performance is during the dinner sequence. During this scene, Candie is informed from Stephen (Jackson) that Django and Waltz never had any intention of doing business for slaves, but rather reacquiring Broomhilda. Candie reacts by slamming his hand onto the glass and threatening Django’s wife. The breaking of the glass was unintentional, and DiCaprio ignored the fact he was bleeding and carried on with the scene. He continues by smearing his blood across Broomhilda, which probably drew the physically shocked reaction from the actress Kerry Washington. This take was used in the final film and a superb bit of improvisation from DiCaprio. When actors/actresses are able to do this, they show the potential and brilliance behind their acting. It’s similar to Heath Ledger’s moment as the Joker in The Dark Knight during the hospital scene. The explosion stops, with the Joker looking back perplexed and checking his detonator. Eventually the explosion carries through, but it was excellent improvisation on Ledger’s part.
In an interview with Variety, producer Stacy Sher stated that the final cut drew a standing ovation from the cast and the crew. Adding to this, she also said that:
“Not because he cut himself,. Because in that scene he had pages and pages of monologue. His performance was masterful. His level of commitment is extraordinary.”
I can only describe DiCaprio’s performance as master class in Django Unchained. There really aren’t enough words to describe one of finest the actors out there in the industry. DiCaprio has only portrayed the villain a few times in his filmography (e.g. The Man in the Iron Mask) and found it hard to come to terms with racism that his character has. Director Quentin Tarantino told him to be as ‘menacing’ as possible, stating that if he didn’t take it all the way, people would hold it against him. He did this and really did prove that he is a very unique actor. This includes when Candie starts talking about Phrenology, where he is identifying three dimples that were on a skull. Phrenology was an ill-fated phase of real Psychology, where it was believed that the bumps on the skull’s locations represented different traits that the individual possessed: such as creativity or athletic ability, for example.
I can’t express how superb I consider DiCaprio’s performance to be in Django Unchained. His role as Monsieur Candie is a fine example of how he adapts himself perfectly to a role. DiCaprio working with Tarantino is the clash of two Hollywood titans. It’s a combination which many people were eager to see. DiCaprio’s style of acting is unique and distinct, and it is why I consider him to be one the best actors from this generation.