The Leonardo DiCaprio conundrum, Leonardo unchained and a personal plea.

20 years ago a young actor gave a breakthrough performance which captured the world’s attention and mine too. Two weeks ago I watched Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.
Add these two facts up and it warrants a post about the guy responsible for this blog’s name.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Leonardo DiCaprio.

Yes, my blog’s name is a reference to the movie This Boy’s Life , a movie that for me is still the ultimate LDi movie.

So here’s the thing about DiCaprio.
He’s a fine actor, his line readings are fantastic and he is believable in a wide variety of roles.
And he has one FATAL FLAW.
He is incapable of eliciting empathy for his characters.

Let me explain by going back almost two decades.
I watched TBL on TV sometime in 1994 and found it a decent drama.
Then I watched it again, with my De Niro-loving brother.
And  found it hilarious.

This is not good for a drama.

The main reason it was hilarious was De Niro’s performance.
He plays a mean and brutal stepfather who constantly bullies LDi’s teenage protagonist.
Think of having the school bully as your step dad and you get the general picture and a comedy goldmine.
If you are familiar with De Niro’s 70’s repertoire and enjoy his little ticks and shticks, this is a real treat.
De Niro was clearly having fun with his role as the following clip will show.

The second reason it was funny to watch a poor teenager getting mobbed by a grown man was the fact that DiCaprio’s Toby left me impressed, yet strangely cold.

It’s symbolic that one of the most iconic picture we have of LDi is of him frozen and blue, sinking into the cold ocean in Titanic.
His screen presence has never penetrated into our hearts (teenage girls excluded)
There is something missing there, a grain of warmth amidst the dazzling technique.
He presses all the right keys, looks the part, talks the talk, walks the walk.
In the end he remains distant.
We simply don’t care about this guy.

To illustrate my point, I turn to the opposite of the empathy flaw.
A famous actress once said that when you watch Marilyn Monroe on screen, you want things to turn out well for her.
The closest we got to Marilyn these days is Naomi Watts.
A large part of what made The Ring a compelling horror film was her likability.
We root for her to survive the seven days, the prehistoric monsters and the tsunami.
She is a terrific actress with an extremely high empathy factor, we care for her when she’s out there and in danger.
We like her.

DiCaprio on the other hand has been terribly miscast for the last 20 years.

Perhaps no other actor has ever worked with so many great directors, on great themes and wielding huge budgets, as Leonardo has in the last 15 years.
Four times Scorsese, a Spielberg, an Eastwood and a Christopher Nolan.
You’ve probably seen most of them and know what they are about.
None are bad.
All are watchable.

But, were any of them great?
No, and it’s largely the director’s fault for choosing him as the lead.
He is a safe bet, you know he will give a decent, professional performance and the movie will open big.
casting him as your protagonist however, insures you will not have a masterpiece on your hands.

It took Quentin Tarantino’s cinematic instincts, or perhaps his huge balls, to cast him as  vicious southern dandy Calvin Candie in Django and he rewarded him by giving the best performance in the picture. Tied with Samuel L Jackson.

Django is not the masterpiece it could have been (more on that in a future article), but
DiCaprio is golden.
His lengthy phrenology monologue ranks as one of the top three scenes QT has conjured up and it’s a tough tough competition.
The movie could have ended with him announcing the serving of “white cake” and that would suit me just fine.

For everyone’s sake, I hope that from now on Leo will embrace his dark side.
No more stinking up Scorsese’s twilight flicks and making sure major blockbusters never reach classic status.

Dear Leo,

Embrace your innate creepiness!
Frolic in your evil ways!
Be Our Christopher Walken! Seriously, the guy is turning 70 next month.
Hurry up before August Diehl gets rid of his accent and takes all those juicy roles.

The guy who has always believed in you and your wicked ways.

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