With three Oscar noms and three Oscar losses, and a 2014 Best Actor prize he’s unlikely to win, why does the Academy keep giving Leonardo DiCaprio lemons?
Before I lose all my twitter followers and rupture the prevalent idea of it being impossible to do anything but love Leonardo DiCaprio, let me first say that I do like the actor. Quite a lot, in fact. Let me also say that this article isn’t intended to be staunch contrarianism and nor is it written simply to annoy those that Luv Leo Cuz He’s Hot, Innit. DiCaprio is a fine actor. Not one of the greatest ever and never likely to be, but a kind-of great in his time, a force in modern movies and certainly one of the best actors currently and consistently working. What he lacks in technique he makes up for in sheer intensity and dedication, and it’s obvious to say, but still worth saying, that he almost always looks the part.
Everything DiCaprio’s done in recent memory has been, for lack of a better term, BIG, from playing Howard Hughes to Calvin Candie
This year’s Best Actor Oscar nomination for The Wolf of Wall Street will be DiCaprio’s fourth, and that’s a fair assessment of his talents these past couple of decades. He’s almost certainly not going to win and, in my eyes, definitely doesn’t deserve to – this year’s statue belongs to Chiwetel Ejiofor – but, in a way, I hope he does. Not because it’s his time or because his is the best example of great acting, but because it might finally mean that Leonardo DiCaprio starts to pick some more low key, introverted roles.
Pretty much everything DiCaprio’s done in recent memory has been, for lack of a better term, BIG – capitals and all. Since 2002, DiCaprio has portrayed, in no particular order: Howard Hughes, legendary aviator, director and madman (The Aviator); J. Edgar Hoover, founder and head of the FBI (J. Edgar); Jay Gatsby, eponymous character of what is considered to be The Great American Novel (The Great Gatsby); and Calvin Candie, that Machiavellian, malevolent, also mad, southern plantation owner, slave merchant and murderer (Django Unchained).
Furthermore, to tone it down a bit but not much, DiCaprio has played a man with the power to invade dreams for global gain (Inception); notorious conman Frank Abagnale Jr. (Catch Me If You Can); and, to go even further back, one of the most famous men in all of literature (Romeo, in Romeo + Juliet) as well as the one-time King of France, King Louis XIV (The Man In The Iron Mask). Add The Wolf of Wall Street’s Jordan Belfort to the picture and you begin to see my point: these are big roles in big pictures and DiCaprio plays them so.
There’s a sense that DiCaprio plays into the Academy’s hands by delivering brash performances. It’s all gotten a bit obvious
You get the sense that there was a hint of an Oscar nomination behind all of them (bar perhaps the last two), and the hint that DiCaprio was playing directly into the Academy’s hands by delivering brash performances about men, most of them real, who somehow influenced the zeitgeist within which they existed; men with big, brazen balls. This isn’t to say that he’s not good in these roles – he was especially so in The Aviator – but one can’t help wish he’d change it up a bit. It’s all gotten a bit obvious.
The problem comes from DiCaprio’s lack of everyman roles of late. An actor can’t be considered truly great until they nail the everyman – the Me and You of the audience, not bestowed with super wealth or powers, but rather just a normal human being with normal problems and crises. Indeed, DiCaprio’s two best performances have been in roles more everyman than Superman.
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DiCaprio’s Billy Costigan in The Departed is perhaps as close to normal as DiCaprio has been, despite the fact he plays an undercover cop in the Scorsese crime thriller. It’s a startling performance of unhappiness and tension, one taut with worry and ill-ease that ranks as DiCaprio’s best role to date. Moreover, his performance in Revolutionary Road, complete with marital woe and some community judgement, makes for another fine piece of work in the everyman guise.
It would serve DiCaprio well if he were to emulate Brad Pitt, a poster-boy turned serious actor who can play the everyman
It would serve DiCaprio well if he were to emulate that other flaxen poster-boy turned serious actor: Brad Pitt. Pitt, though still very much in the market for big roles, has the refreshing tendency to churn out the everyman every now and then. Think his simple American tourist in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s modern classic, Babel, or his lowly, economically-encouraged hitman in Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly. Even when Pitt has a hand in big pictures like 12 Years a Slave, he’s known to take a back foot to the proceedings (he produces 12 Years and has a small role as a simple, humane carpenter).
Of course, all of this will be rendered irrelevant by the twitter-sphere who see Leo bashing – not that this article should be considered bashing at all – as some sort of crime deemed worthy of castration. The irony here is if that DiCaprio deflated his own balls a bit, we might again see the actual best of him.
More on the movie that got DiCaprio his fourth acting nom: The Wolf of Wall Street may be the scariest film you see this year
Featured image: Universal
Inset images: Columbia; Warner Bros