I challenged my friends to tell me why I’m wrong about my impervious ideas. In this edition of You’re Wrong, Daniel, my friend Chelsea doesn’t let my Leonardo DiCaprio opinions onto the lifeboat.
The Quick and The Dead
Nestled between his Evil Dead movies and his Tobey Maguire movies is Sam Raimi’s The Quick and the Dead. Leonardo DiCaprio plays “The Kid,” and ever character detail that instinctively comes to you whenever you hear that someone is nicknamed “The Kid” is a character detail for “The Kid.” He’s brash, needs a parental figure, has a deeply ingrained sense of honor, and doesn’t like Gene Hackman. He is everything that “The Kid” should be, right up to the point where he challenges Gene to a duel and gets shot, which is how I assume Gene Hackman deals with anyone who gets his coffee order wrong or breaks in a line that he’s standing in.
Chelsea’s Counter-pick: What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
Can we just call this edition of the column “you’re so, so right, Daniel?” Because frankly, I’m a fan of virtually every role Leo’s played. But if we’re talking young Leo, there’s no better role than that of Arnie. It’s become a cliché that actors take on special needs characters in hopes of their talent shining through a challenging gig. That cliché exists because of Leo’s work in Gilbert Grape. Arnie is the lovable if exhausting glue holding together a family that seems bound for implosion and Leo’s nuanced portrayal is why the movie works overall. He’s gentle and obnoxious, sweet but stubborn. Above all, he’s real. Bonus points for Leo when you compare the evolution of his career with Johnny Depp’s.
People lost their minds over how I-WANT-TO-WIN-AN-OSCAR-ey DiCaprio is in The Revenant, but that performance doesn’t hold a candle to his role in J. Edgar, which is the ultimate biopic that you watch when you come back to your hotel room after you’ve been out on the beach for too long. He has terrible old man makeup in some scenes, his performance wavers from subtlety to outrageous overacting within the second, and I swear that if you look hard enough, you can see the physical manifestation of joy leaving his body. J. Edgar is like meeting your high school theater friend in college and hearing all about how they “take acting seriously now,” and how “it’s a craft.” I love it.
Chelsea’s Counter-pick: The Aviator
Sorry, I stopped reading at “the ultimate biopic.” The ultimate biopic? That would be The Aviator. Watching Howard Hughes’ downfall – all three hours of it – is captivating because of Leo’s effort. Gone is the pretty boy from Romeo + Juliet. He throws himself into the role of the cunning, charismatic man devolving into an obsessive recluse. Leo staggers between the manic highs and paralyzing lows that Hughes faced. It’s the role he was born to play. The story is a tragic one that has taken on mythic proportions over the years, not unlike Leo’s thus unsuccessful quest for Oscar.
A year after J. Edgar, DiCaprio went in the opposite direction with his acting. In J. Edgar, he acted so hard. In Django, I feel like everything came together way more naturally for him. He didn’t have to furrow his brow with every line, or place unnaturally long pauses between words (which is actor shorthand for “I’m in over my head with this, aren’t I?”) Instead, he created one of the best Tarantino villains ever. He was so magnetic and so effortlessly despicable, and he and Christoph Waltz just devoured the scenery around them in a “No, the audience wants to watch ME more!” contest. Also, he’s not even the main villain, which makes it even better. It kind of feels like a big metaphor when it comes to Leonardo’s struggle to win awards. He’s all like “I’M LEONARDO DICAPRIO. I AM AN ACTTTOOORRRR.” And everyone else is like “No, you’re Leonardo DiCaprio. Now eat your cake.”
Chelsea’s Counter-pick: Titanic
I, too, loved Django, but if we’re talking about Leo stealing the show, there’s no better example than Titanic. Movies like this only come around once a generation – there’s a reason it’s so iconic, and I’ll give you a hint: it’s not because of Cameron’s script. Leo is magnetic, he’s luminous, he’s the heart throb to end all heart throbs. Let’s be clear: Titanic is not a good film. But Leo’s commitment to every “ROSE!” he bellows shines through – he’s the rising tide lifting all (rapidly sinking) boats. Titanic without Leo would be just another lame disaster movie. And we can’t forget about the exhilarating chemistry between Leo and Kate Winslet. I was eight when this movie came out – Jack Dawson gave me my first portrait of the ideal man. He’s plucky and smart with just enough cocky optimism to appeal to even the most cynical of girls. This role won him the attention of fan girls and film buffs alike, not because his previous work wasn’t great, but because in Titanic, he commands your attention. Unless you’re the Academy, I guess.