Leonardo DiCaprio has had his hand in some of the biggest and best movies on the planet and one such movie has now found its way to the Netflix streaming platform. In Django Unchained, the actor plays Calvin Candie, a role for which DiCaprio received a standing ovation by cast and crew after he finished a famous scene in the movie (something we’ll touch on in a bit).
The story follows dentist-turned-bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz (Academy Award-winning Christoph Waltz for this role), as he comes across a group of shackled slaves being taken for sale by the Speck brothers, Ace and Dicky. Schultz wishes to purchase Django for his knowledge of the whereabouts of the three Brittle Brothers, outlaws Schultz is looking to collect the reward on.
The Speck’s are in no mood and in pointing his gun at Schultz, Ace makes his point perfectly clear. Schultz doesn’t take kindly to the threat, so he kills Ace, then shoots Dicky’s horse, pinning Dicky underneath. Schultz then offers Django his freedom plus $75 to help him find the Brittles. Schultz leaves the remaining freed slaves to kill Dicky.
Schultz and Django make their way to “Big Daddy” Bennett’s (Don Johnson) plantation, where they track down the Brittles. After a quick encounter where the Brittle’s lose their lives, Big Daddy tries to take out Schultz and Django. Bad move on his part. Schultz, now feeling responsible for Django, tells the former slave that he will help him find his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington).
Schultz helps Django refine his skills with a gun and the two head off to grab a few more bounties. During this time, they find out that Broomhilda is being held at the plantation of Calvin Candie, played with charming menace by Leonardo DiCaprio.
To get to Candie, the duo hatches a plan to enter Mandingo fights (slaves fighting each other to the death for sport) by offering Candie a large sum of money for his best fighter as a pretext to buying back Broomhilda. When they first meet Candie at his Gentleman’s Club, he is intrigued.
Arriving at the “Candyland” plantation, the duo also meets Calvin’s head house slave, Stephen (the amazing Samuel L. Jackson), who is more than first meets the eye. Stephen realizes that Broomhilda knows Django and is able to put together Schultz and Django’s plan. Stephen then relays the entire plan to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Candie.
As with many great Quentin Tarantino movies, not everyone makes it out alive. He has a way of killing off the bad guys in grand fashion, but he also loves to take out characters audiences are well invested in. Django Unchained is no different. The deaths are brutal and many times heartbreaking.
According to writer/director extraordinaire, Quentin Tarantino, the impetus of the film came when he was writing an essay on Sergio Corbucci, the director of the 1966 original spaghetti Western, Django. “The Corbucci piece put all those images in my head. I was listening to spaghetti Western soundtracks, and the first scene came to me. Dr. King Schultz just came out of my pen.”
Quentin Tarantino’s final version of Django was vastly different from Corbucci’s. Tarantino decided to tackle a taboo subject (slavery) in a way not seen on film. Jamie Foxx, who plays slave-turned-bounty hunter Django, says via The Hollywood Reporter, of slavery and of the films over 100-plus uses of the dreaded “N” word, “You should be upset if you hear it,” says Foxx. “Our intention is never to hurt the feelings of any African-American. But there was no other word used in the period. We do many movies about the Holocaust, which is fantastic. We don’t do a lot of movies about slavery, and Quentin’s the only person who could get it greenlit.”
When Tarantino was first envisioning Calvin Candie, the director says, via The Hollywood Reporter, he “wanted the character to be a little bit older, a real cotton man who had a side hobby in mandingo fighting.” But Leonardo DiCaprio began to show interest in the part, so Tarantino rethought the character. “All of a sudden I thought about a bored, petulant boy emperor: Caligula, Louis XIV. Where his daddy’s daddy’s daddy was the cotton man. He’s the idle, decadent rich.”
Leonardo DiCaprio, while being very concerned with his character’s explicit racism, took the role to new heights. During one scene, DiCaprio was on his sixth take when he slammed his hand down on the table and hit a small glass. According to co-producer Stacey Sher, “It disintegrated into his hand, and he never flinched.” You can see the moment from the film below.
Leonardo DiCapriojust rolled along. “My hand started really pouring blood all over the table,” says DiCaprio via The Hollywood Reporter. “Maybe they thought it was done with special effects. I wanted to keep going. It was more interesting to watch Quentin’s and Jamie’s reaction off-camera than to look at my hand.” When the take finished, the entire room gave him a standing ovation.
For much of Leonardo DiCaprio’s career, he has been getting a standing ovation and by that, we mean his box office numbers. Always a popular draw at the theater, Django Unchained didn’t fail. The combination of DiCaprio, Foxx, Jackson, Washington, and a host of Tarantino stalwarts, along with Tarantino, grabbed $425 million at the box office on a $100 million budget.
Leo’s career has been defined by big movies. The Academy Award-nominated What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and The Basketball Diaries put him on the map and things sky-rocketed from there. He made one movie in 1997 and he could have called his career a wrap after that.
Titanic was the movie and the James Cameron film, which had DiCaprio star opposite Kate Winslet, has brought in over $2.1 billion at the box office. To make the film, DiCaprio had to turn down the starring role of Dirk Diggler on the film Boogie Nights.
The list of DiCaprio’s big movies is impressive. The Man in the Iron Mask, The Beach, Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed, Blood Diamond, Inception, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Revenant, and his reunion with Quentin Tarantino on Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood. All fantastic films.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s upcoming schedule is a full one. Up next is the comedy Don’t Look Up. Then DiCaprio will star in another Martin Scorsese film, Killer of the Flower Moon. DiCaprio will then take on an interesting role in The Devil in the White City where he will play infamous serial killer Dr. H. H. Holmes whose reign of terror coincided with the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. You can check out one of Leonardo DiCaprio’s great performance in Django Unchained on Netflix.