Leonardo DiCaprio did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe and winning the NBR, for portraying Calvin Candie in Django Unchained.
Leonardo DiCaprio for awhile now has been playing some roles of men who are suffering something whether it is a terrible marriage, the stress of being an undercover cop, or having dead wives. Understandably these have not exactly been the most jovial of performances that is why it is quite nice to see DiCaprio take on such a different sort of character here. DiCaprio plays a horrendous character here as Calvin Candie a plantation owner who loves to indulge in Mandingo fighting which is having his slaves fight to the death in hand to hand combat. Despite the lowly nature of the character this is one of the liveliest performances DiCaprio has ever given.
DiCaprio makes Calvin Candie who loves all that he does, and loves his life in general. DiCaprio makes Calvin Candie a man who has no hesitations about what he does with all of his slaves. DiCaprio in the first scene is unabashed in showing that Calvin Candie is just enjoying himself, and this perfectly fitting for a man who always has been a slaver, therefore would never have any second thoughts on the subject. It is quite an effective way to portray the character, and even well watching two men kill each other DiCaprio has Calvin act like it is some sort of casual sport simply there just for his amusement.
Leonardo DiCaprio takes on the role with a specific manner and style which is that of the stereotypical southern gentleman. They are quite effectively done in a humorous fashion, although not to the point that he becomes a full on parody. He makes his accent and his manner infused properly into his characterization and only amplifies the dynamic between his pleasant demeanor and his horrible actions. DiCaprio's performance is very overt in his style here in the way he emphasizes every line he has, and he is very entertaining because of frankly how much he does play up his character's particular manner.
It should be noted that as well as just being an entertaining character he is an effective villain as well. Although Calvin is being duped by freed slave Django (Jamie Foxx), and bounty hunter King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) for most of DiCaprio screen time there are very important moments during this where he is quite strong in portraying the evil nature of the man. The most effective being of when he orders that an escaped slave be fed alive to dogs. DiCaprio is terrific in the way he shows how casual Candie is about the whole thing, but also his reaction when Schultz offers to save the slave is particularly well handled. In the short moment DiCaprio expresses the confusion, and suspicion in the eyes of Calvin well, and properly establishes the idea that their ruse probably will be broken.
We follow the two as they lead up to Calvin's plantation which brings them us to Samuel L. Jackson who also was not Oscar nominated for portraying the role of Stephen in this film. When DiCaprio first appears he comes on strong, but when Jackson shows up he practically devours the scenery as Calvin Candie's head slave Stephen. Jackson shows up playing the part almost like one of those stereotypes of black people found in some of the films of the 1930s. Jackson though of course does in a very knowing fashion and makes Stephen a tremendous burst of energy for the film right when it needs it.
Jackson just like DiCaprio portrays his character as unabashedly racist. As strange as it might sound he makes Stephen seem even more racist that Calvin if that is possible. Jackson is incredibly good here with everything he does with Stephen from his over the top limp to his excessively fussy manner of speaking as well as his wild expressions. Jackson teeters brilliantly on that tightrope that is overacting. Overacting is something that only some actors can do, and if an actor is to do it they better have good a reason for doing so. Jackson is an actor who can overact, and he is has a very good reason for doing so as the head house slave Stephen.
Jackson perfectly plays up the absurdity of this character which certainly makes since considering that Stephen who considers his own kind lowly, and seems to love being a slave. He makes the absolute most of his material here actualyl being rather hilarious in just how absurdly racist Stephen is in the way he reacts to Django and basically cannot fathom a black man as a free man, as well as espouses extremely loudly, even louder than Calvin, how poorly he thinks of his own kind. Jackson is great here because although he is playing what is essentially a cartoon in a way, he makes Stephen into an actual character still in his own right and is believable as this very odd sort of man.
Now after we are introduced to Stephen Calvin Schultz, and Django sit down to dinner with Stephen in attendance. This scene is where he and DiCaprio's performance come together in perfect harmony, and the two play well along with Christoph Waltz as well. Jackson and DiCaprio are excellent creating the very particularity camaraderie between the two. DiCaprio, Jackson, and Waltz all together make this just a wonderful scene. DiCaprio and Jackson are extremely amusing here with DiCaprio playing up Calvin's faux suaveness, and Jackson making Stephen's uncouthness as well as his toady that mostly entails him laughing at everything Calvin's says extremely funny as well as showing the dynamic they have when in the company of others.
Jackson and DiCaprio are really toe to toe until this point, but then we see a very different side of Stephen. When Stephen is not in plain view of others and is taking care of the house hold business we see a very different man. He is almost daffy in the open but suddenly Stephen becomes a commanding presence that seems to be the truer aspect of this man. Jackson is outstanding the way he breaks all expectations he created by Stephen's behavior beforehand was only his very own ruse, and in fact he seems in more of control of everything that Calvin is. Jackson is particularly strong in the dinner scene because one moment in front of the guests he seems his daffy self than when he takes Django's wife Broomhilda to the backroom he absolutely chilling in portraying Stephen incisive interrogation.
What is incredible though is when Stephen requests a meeting with Calvin we see that even with the other slaves Stephen still is putting on a little, and Jackson is terrific the way he loses any of the weaknesses Stephen suggests in the situation and in fact seems to be even in charge of Calvin in a way. He is excellent because he makes the dichotomy of this man believable, and slowly uncovers it in a fantastic fashion to the greatest affect. Jackson overrides DiCaprio as the man villain as Stephen is the one who actually spots the game of Django and Schultz which is shown in a brilliant moment for Jackson. Jackson is extremely good showing both sides of Stephen at the same time first saying in his more aloof fashion that they should all look at Broomhilda's scars than though when seeing Django's reaction we see the intelligent decisive Stephen come out.
Of course this is not to say DiCaprio takes just a oreback seat and he comes back for one more set of scenes after Calvin learns the truth. DiCaprio is excellent as the intensity of Calvin comes out more, which works because he properly suggested earlier on. My only complaint would be that when DiCaprio yells he loses his accent a bit, and it is the only time he loses his strength as Calvin at all. Still he makes up for it through his quieter moments of Calvin's threats to Django and Schultz. For example when he breaks the glass and yells his threat that they will be shot he goes off the proper chart of Calvin a little bit, but he more than makes up for when later he quietly indicates to his man to murder Broomhilda if Schultz does not shake his hand. Really my complaints of this performance are nitpicks, and it is a very effective villianous turn by Dicaprio.
Now Calvin leaves but Stephen stays and we get the last thirty minutes of the picture which are by far the weakest parts of the film. If there is a saving grace of the last thirty minutes it definitely is we get more of Jackson. His threat to Django is a stunning scene and Jackson brings out the grim brutality of the situation in a fantastic fashion. Now this is wasted a bit by Quentin Tarantino by having the mining company that is suppose to be far more horrible than they turn out to be, unless of course Jackson was really talking about their acting than thanks to Tarantino's performance Stephen was right. Later on Jackson gets another great scene where Stephen defiantly stands showing the true Stephen. Of course Tarantino's wastes this again by just getting another scene of Django far too easily taking care of the situation rather than a showdown between the two which would have been far more interesting and satisfying. Anyway Jackson's efforts here at the end are great, and honestly he alone makes me feel that the last thirty minutes are not a complete waste of time. He uses the time to make Stephen a truly imposing villain, even if Tarantino's wastes it does not diminish Jackson's achievement which is tremendous.