There’s a trend in films of directors getting the best from certain actors. Martin Scorsese had Robert De Niro, Tim Burton relishes working with Johnny Depp and Ben Affleck brings out the best in Ben Affleck. Most recently, Tarantino has found a new mouthpiece of choice in the wonderfully charismatic Christoph Waltz. The Austrian was barely known before 2009 and now, is the only actor to win an Oscar in a Tarantino film.
He owes a large part of his success, of course, to Tarantino. Waltz’s Col. Hans Landa stole every scene that he appears in Inglorious Basterds. His eerie calm, effortless mastery of linguistics and affluent charm all add to an air of seeming omnipotence. The part should be almost unplayable. Multiple languages, layer after layer of depth, the ability to charm while appearing sadistic, to calm you while at the same time inducing an anxious fear. Yet Waltz effortlessly gave us one of the most memorable villains Hollywood has produced.
Perhaps it is his lack of stereotypical eurovillain traits that we love him so. He isn’t the usual overplayed madness in the mould of Die Hard’s Hans Gruber, overacted to the point of parody. Waltz showed Landa as a person who didn’t think he was a villain, just a cog in a machine, doing its job. He wasn’t a megalomaniacal supervillain, just a detective.
And so to Django Unchained. He again delivered his lines with a musical flourish on them, bringing the English language to life like few others can, evoking sympathy and being a genuinely likable, merciless psychopath, with a liking for the theatric. There could be an argument for Django and Basterds being Tarantino’s best films. Perhaps this is a case, of the actor bringing out the best in the director?