MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #4: LEONARDO DICAPRIO by PAUL LAIGHT
In this occasional series I regale my favourite actors and select some of their memorable performances. Leonardo DiCaprio is an actor who has just got better and better in each role he’s been in. I admire his craft because he has seamlessly moved away from star-crossed heartthrob roles such as Titanic (1997) shifting to meaty, dramatic roles the likes of which I will list here. DiCaprio has good looks, charisma and a sparkling smile yet doesn’t avoid the darkness and can easily play the good guys, bad guys and – where humanity is concerned – the ugly guys too. Here are five great roles he’s played and I could quite easily have chosen five others such is the quality of his acting CV.
**THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD**
BLOOD DIAMOND (2006)
Aside from this one and Titanic (1997) DiCaprio doesn’t do enough action type movies with big explosions and mayhem. Perhaps he doesn’t like running around and prefers the meatier roles? Then again, his character Danny Archer had an impressive character arc amidst the fireworks within this Edward Zwick directed anti-war film. Initially, he is a selfish mercenary only out for the money until he comes into contact with Djimon Hounsou and his desperate search for his son. Together they hunt for a priceless diamond in war-torn Sierra Leone and in the process Archer/DiCaprio learns some humanity along the way. It takes a broad approach politically but, amidst the well-stage battle sequences it successfully highlights the horrific attitude of Western capitalism to Africa: a place to be plundered for wealth and damned the consequences. Yet, for me, this works best as a classic war film with DiCaprio’s anti-heroic soldier ultimately finding redemption by the end.
DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)
DiCaprio’s turn as ‘The Kid’ in Sam Raimi’s Leone Western homage The Quick and The Dead (1995) almost made this list as he was just so young and cheeky and his death scene was very touching; but I’ve gone with his badass rendition of nefarious plantation owner Calvin Candie instead. It’s an over-the-top and theatrical ripper of a performance as he takes great glee playing the baddest, racist, capitalist pig around. Indeed, Tarantino cast him perfectly as he used DiCaprio’s charisma to counteract the murderous psychosis of the devilish Candie. In the hands of another actor the whole film could have been just damned nasty but with his Southern accent, golden glint in his eye and finger-twiddling moustache-come-beard he almost steals the show. The mercurial Christophe Waltz won the best supporting Oscar for his role and deservedly so, however, DiCaprio must have been close to breaking his Academy cherry here with this grandstanding and dastardly turn.
THE AVIATOR (2004)
I hated this film the first time I saw but soon realised I was an idiot; on 2nd and 3rd viewing the pure genius of the Scorcese and DiCaprio combination shone through every time. With a brilliant John Logan screenplay it depicts the early years of Howard Hughes’ flamboyance, follies and failures. DiCaprio has often portrayed characters on the edge of a nervous breakdown or full-blown mentalists like Teddy Daniels in Shutter Island (2010) and here he captures Hughes at the height of his film and aviation glories only to find his obsessive-compulsive disorder swallowing him up and dragging him into the pits of hell. This step-by-step disintegration is portrayed with such intelligence and impact I felt this was the role DiCaprio should have won Best Oscar for. It’s a brash and loud performance with Hughes’ big personality to the fore, however, underneath the mental issues which would make him a recluse in later years are beginning to show through and the actor draws out these subtleties in a devastating and very sad way.
CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (2002)
This was a just a humdinger of a film which had everything: humour, romance, drama, crime, cat-and-mouse chases, pathos, brilliant cast, sex and at its heart DiCaprio playing a teenage con-boy to perfection! Once again he is perfectly cast as the little-boy-lost who is devastated by his parents’s break-up and goes on the lam perfecting his counterfeiting skills on the way. Frank Abagnale Jnr is arguably the role which finds DiCaprio grow on-screen from a lad to a man. In it he imbues the arrogance of youth yet also reveals the pain and drive of a child attempting to come to terms with his feelings. His instinct is to run as fast as he can and his crimes such as: impersonating a pilot; faking cheques; practising law and medicine are presented as a means of escaping his internal turmoil. Steven Spielberg illustrates this incredible story with style and pace and DiCaprio is just a treat as he lies and cheats and cons his way into and out of the most entertaining of scrapes with Tom Hanks’ dogged agent never far behind him.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2014)
DiCaprio doesn’t DO superheroes. He does anti-superheroes; and none more so than in this memoir by disgraced human scum Jordan Belfort – a drug-addicted-sex-addicted-thieving-stockbroker-par-excellence. The Wolf of Wall Street follows the same rise-and-fall structure of mafia classic Goodfellas (1990) as DiCaprio’s Belfort schemes and sells his soul to power up through the snakes and ladders of Wall Street. This is NOT a heavy analysis of socio-economic morality and values but rather a bullet-paced black comedy filled with cracking scenes and razor-sharp one-liners delivered by a stellar cast. This is DiCaprio and Martin Scorcese’s film and as they demonstrated in The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island etc. they are a formidable team. What DiCaprio does incredibly well is making this Wall Street monster likeable, funny, believable and human. Indeed, I felt DiCaprio deserved an Oscar but the Belfort character has already had enough success in his lifetime and threw it all away because of greed. Surely awarding an Oscar to such a heinous character would be TOO MUCH wouldn’t it? But as this film demonstrates TOO MUCH is never enough!