Thursday, 11 November 2010

Leo the Lion; or thereabouts

I want to wash the memory of Inception from my brain. Not because I hated it (I just didn’t like it) but because it’s made me doubtful about Leonardo DiCaprio. Chances are, if you’re reading this blog you’d know that I have no inhibitions about espousing unpopular opinions. For every five times I’ve said Leo is one of my favourite actors there have been two people telling me that I’m crazy for thinking – which doesn’t bother me. It’s not that I think he’s flawless – I have Daniel Day Lewis for those sentiments – but I’m always seeing something special in almost every performance he does, Cobb and others among the exceptions. But I don’t want to lament on the less than perfect today. It’s November 8th and it’s Leo’s birthday. And because he is one of my favourite actors it’s only right that I give a quick look and some of the brilliant (says me) performances that he’s contributed to cinema. My paranoia in worrying that he’s hit a stump is only natural, I’m still going crazy wondering if Jude Law is ever going to grace us with his brilliant screen presence again, but I digress. That’s information for another post...
Frank Abagnale Jr. in Catch Me If You Can
"Ah, people only know what you tell them, Carl."
By my summation Frank is not DiCaprio's  best performance. It is, though, the sole performance of his that I can see no one else playing. He has that weird sort of charisma that makes it possible for him to exude that boyish charm that's necessary for young Frank while being brash enough to be wily as adult Frank. It's a strange thing to watch, and no doubt those scenes with Christopher Walken are highlights. I'm not overly fond of the chemistry with Hanks, but then I'm not overly fond of Hanks period - so that;s not saying much. It's weird, two big films in 2002 and no Oscar love for DiCaprio - but I suppose they were just biding their time.
Howard Hughes in The Aviator
 "Show me the blueprints."
Interestingly this has turned into an even more polarising performance than his Amsterdam in Gangs of New York. It’s admittedly a role that doesn’t seem to exist in his natural register but it’s proof that he may not be able to play anything but he can play many things. DiCaprio isn't the sort of actor that works well in confinement - like Ralph Fiennes for example. That man can rock a monologue, DiCaprio does excellently when paired up with a scene partner and there's really no doubt that he's at his strongest opposite Blanchett. Perhaps, just a little of my general infatuation obsession appreciation of Katharine Hepburn trickles over and makes me love their arc that much more. But that final confrontation with Blanchett? Just brilliant.
Arnie in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993)
"She's a whale! Tucker, she's a whale!
DiCaprio is one-third of the reason I can’t stand Tommy Lee Jones or The Fugitive. The other two thirds are Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List and Pete Postlewasite in In the Name of the Father. In short, one of these men should have had an Oscar that year. Enough said. Well, not quite. Child actors are irregular, few develop into serviceable performers - fewer can play a layered incarnation of a character as children. His Arnie is not the strongest child-performance I've seen, but the mere fact that he really does convince me that he's disable is something to praise.

Billy Costigan in The Departed (2006)
 "Well I tell you Mr. Costello, I'd like to squeeze some fucking money out of it."
If there's one thing DiCaprio proved with The Departed it's that he has the ability to ground a film, even one that has a large ensemble of actors all doing brilliant things. In theory, DiCaprio shouldn't emerge so easily as the lead in the film because it's really not about Billy Costigan - at least not about him only. I'm a big fan of The Departed (proof) and I'd say that the film never hits a false note, but the biggest thrills all seem to surround DiCaprio.

Frank Wheeler in Revolutionary Road
"I mean: what the hell are you doing in my house if you hate me so much?"
I've established, more than once, that I'm a fan of DiCaprio in Revolutionary Road. I'm still generally confused as to his absence from any significant Awards Race (other than the Golden Globes). Remember, I did cite this as my favourite male performance of the decade and in retrospect I'm surprised more persons didn't cry out about it. I know Revoultionary Road has its adamant dissenters - who I've incidentally not come across here.
Happy birthday, Leo. Which performance of his would you watch today?


MovieNut14 said...

You may have noticed already that I reviewed The Departed earlier today. Good list of Leo roles; seen all but What's Eating Gilbert Grape.

Anonymous said...

The only one I haven't seen in that list is The Aviator, which for some reason God doesn't want me to see that movie. Billy Costigan's still my favourite Leo, and my second is his charming altruism in Titanic.

I also didn't know he was born in Remembrance Day. Any war movies in his future?

Anonymous said...

I hope you don't mind this comes in two parts.

Part 1

So stop me if we’ve already gone down this road and don’t kick me in the pants if we have and somehow between your blog and the other two hundred I’m following and trying to build a network of other reviewers and film folks to travel freely to and fro my site and their site and your site – but I caught this article and had to comment. I know I haven’t commented on this one. Well, I’m pretty sure.

Please do come by and read my review of inception because I think we might have some similar feelings about it:

I love unpopular opinions so it seems I’m in the right place for it appears at times that my opinions are very often in direct opposition to the opinions of others and while this doesn’t particular bother me it does make me pause. And then I move on. I think you have every right to question DiCaprio and while you consider him one of your favorites, I have as of late lost all hope that he will ever return to former glory. He’s made a string of forgettable films as of late and I can’t think of a single film that comes anywhere near his work in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape or The Basketball Diaries – though he was interesting in Marvin’s Room, and while I remain a stalwart in the unlovers club of Titanic his performance was notable (though it is apparent there is a definitive break between the pre-titanic DiCaprio and the post-titanic DiCaprio). I really wanted to like him in The Departed and if pushed would have to say that is his best film since The Basketball Diaries but he was still just too, well, too him.

Oh, I too love Mr. Daniel D. Lewis but honestly, Gangs of New York? That nearly capsized the vessel but fortunately we have There Will Be Blood to right the hull and keep us from sinking to the bottom.

I’m still waiting for Jude to return to us as well.

Anonymous said...

Part 2

I really wanted to like Catch Me If You Can and while I reserve any further criticism until I can watch it again, as I recall it was light in character, heavy in plot devices, and loose in story. A pretty man-child in a smart suit stumbling through a weak movie is still a pretty man-child, etc. You don’t like Tom Hanks? How is that possible?
The Aviator was, well, unwatchable if not representative of a flabby Scorsese who hasn’t truly made anything of substance since Goodfellas (though as I mentioned before, I did like The Departed just not in the usual, Scorsese-brilliant-kind-of-way). This film is DiCaprio at his most errogant, self-puffed self that while serves the flamboyant character he is portraying gets in the way and prevents us from really seeing Howard Hues. This is an example of when an actor cannot inhabit their character and as a result we watch DiCaprio parading from scene to scene instead of the person he is supposed to be and for me that ruined this movie.
What? You didn’t think DiCaprio was brilliant as the idiot-child in Grape:? That is quite amazing, actually, especially from someone who says they really like him. I have to say his performance was one of the best as a severely mentally handicapped child in recent memory – he was better than Sean Penn in I Am Sam, better than Jodie Foster in Nell, and even better than Sally Fields in Sybill (and the latter is saying a lot because Sally was brilliant in that film). So I can see our opinions taking the proverbial fork in the road. Lets see where else we go from here.
I see your points about The Departed but DiCaprio never even got close to Nicholson’s performance and Matt Damon was clearly more comfortable in his role and therefore empowered to take more risks and actually allow us to engage with his character and the obviously foolish mistakes he made. This film was just another DiCaprio playing DiCaprio movie, in my opinion, stiff and familiar, the usual bellowing emotional exchanges that have become a kind of trademark of sorts. If you compare DiCaprio in this film, Reservation Road, and Shutter Island you’d be surprised at how similar his performances are and not in a good way. Who wants to watch an actor (they like or dislike) play the same part time and time again. You can add Sam Jackson to that line up as well as DiNero as of late, sadly.

That was most likely much more than I intended or you were interested in but there it is. Do come by and see me sometime.


Malcolm said...

He is my favorite actor from the 90's until today.

When did he ever gave a bad performance?

All great works:
Romeo + Juliet
Catch Me If You Can
The Aviator
The Departed
Revolutionary Road
Shutter Island

I have only seen these films from his career but he's absolutely great.

Happy Birthday Leo!

Fitz said...

Shutter Island with a bullet.