Why Calvin Candie is Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance
(Credit: Netflix)

Film Reviews

Why Calvin Candie is Leonardo DiCaprio's performance

Why Calvin Candie is Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance

As Netflix is continuously piling its figurative shelves with reams of original projects, it’s worth reminding ourselves that they started out by sharing some of the greatest Hollywood titles ever made. So, with Netflix Flashback, we’re looking back at some of the platform’s classic films and reminding ourselves just how great they are. Next up, let us appreciate Leonardo DiCaprio portraying a character brimming with shrewd brutality in Quentin Tarantino’s 2013 film Django Unchained

Set in a pre-Civil War era where America’s horrible past tainted with issues of slavery and racism is highlighted, the film revolves around the eponymous Django Freeman. Rescued by a German travelling bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz, Black slave and “the fastest gun in the South”, he sets out on a journey to free his wife, Broomhilda, from a despicable, narcissistic and malicious Mississippi plantation owner and brutal slave-fight enthusiast, Calvin Candie.

Starring Jamie Foxx, Samuel Jackson, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington and more, the film saw DiCaprio playing the role of a downright vile and abominable slave owner named Calvin Candie. Owner of the fourth largest cotton plantation in Mississippi named Candyland, Candie has a knack for Mandingo fights, whipping slaves and successfully infiltrating his Black servants’ minds-especially Stephen, his “boy” — to make them white-men-apologists and subjugate their fellow black compatriots. He gets off on watching his workers writhe in pain as he inflicts inexplicably gruesome violence on them. DiCaprio admittedly found it extremely difficult to play such a terrifyingly evil and loathsome character.

“For me”, he said, “the initial thing obviously was playing someone so disreputable and horrible whose ideas I obviously couldn’t connect with on any level.” He went on: “I remember our first read-through, and some of my questions were about the amount of violence, the amount of racism, the explicit use of certain language… My initial response was, ‘Do we need to go this far?”  

While playing one of the most crucial scenes in the film, namely the glass-smashing scene, he had ended up cutting his own hand while the cameras were rolling. Ever the professional actor, this accident did not deter him from going forward with the scene. One of the finest performances of his career, his role as a villainous slave owner who derived immense pleasure from watching the Black men fight to their death for the sake of entertainment. His death is perhaps one of the most cathartic moments in the film as he wordlessly drops to his death. While one of his most iconic moments has now become a millennial meme, Candie remains one of Tarantino’s most horrifying antagonists. Tarantino, too, admitted, “He’s the first villain I’ve ever written that I didn’t like. I hated Candie, and I normally like my villains no matter how bad they are.” 

DiCaprio had never played such a ruthless and wicked character in his previous films and it was indeed an audacious attempt on his part. Although he did not get nominated for an Academy Award- we are convinced the Academy hates him- Candie, the relentless champion of racism, cruelty and gratuitous violence, remains one of the most memorable performances of his career, evoking immeasurable hatred in our hearts.