I remember life before knowing that the characters in movies weren’t real people, but were played by actors. The day you find that out is really depressing, because up until then, you thought that Peter Pan really could fly, or that the Goonies of Astoria, Oregon really did find One-Eyed Willy’s pirate treasure (and that that was a good name for a pirate). Everything was far more magical during that short period of innocent naivete as a child, and the world was mysterious, exciting and wonderful.
Now, this doesn’t mean those stories don’t have any meaning. We don’t stop celebrating Christmas because Santa Claus isn’t real, or eating chocolate eggs because bunnies aren’t pink and don’t lay eggs full of candy; there is meaning in symbolism and narrative. However, we do long for the days of that lost innocence, I think, and we look up to people who have the ability to take us back there, even if just for a tiny bit of time, to when the story becomes so real it changes how we think about the world.
Leonardo DiCaprio isn’t one of those people. Not quite.
Don’t get me wrong; I like Leo. He’s a solid actor, does a lot of good films, and I’ve always enjoyed his performances. I would even argue that a couple of those performances might have been Oscar-worthy (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? which will be my ongoing exception for the following…), but I don’t see him winning an Oscar anytime soon for a couple of reasons:
- He feels like the same character in every film. He’s not Jack Dawson, then Frank Abagnale, then Howard Hughes (though I see people saying he nailed the OCD thing) then Gatsby; he’s always Leonardo DiCaprio playing those characters. Again, this doesn’t make him a bad actor; lots of actors are like this, but the best actors are the ones who fully lose themselves in the character they’re playing (good examples: Heath Ledger as the Joker, or Christoph Waltz in Inglorious Basterds) and you forget it’s them playing that character. Save for WEGG, I don’t see this in Leo. Even his hairstyle hardly changes by the film; he looks the same every time.
- He never plays anything too out in left field, at least from what I’ve seen. While he’s played a couple of significant historical figures, he’s never doing anything that I would see as outside his comfort zone. Generally, if the person was real, Leo plays him, and it seems to usually be a tortured genius, or antihero with a heart of gold. He rarely plays an antagonist, and if he does, it’s not very great. Not that there aren’t exceptions to the rule, but it does still seem to be the rule to me.
- He can’t change his accent to save his life, in my opinion. His southern accent in Django Unchained wasn’t exactly stellar, and whatever he was trying to pull off in The Aviator hardly had me convinced.
- While he is often in great films, he isn’t what makes the film great. The Silver Linings Playbook wasn’t that great of a story by plot standards, but Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence made it something important because of their ability to portray mental illness (again, something Leo has been credited for in the past). The fact that Leo partners with Martin Scorsese frequently doesn’t mean he’s going to be the main reason a film is great; he just doesn’t have that kind of ability.
I certainly don’t mean to write this post to rip on Leo, or to say that he’s a terrible actor. Again, I’m never disappointed to see him in a casting line-up, and I do enjoy seeing him act. There’s a reason he’s as popular as he is, and honestly, I would love to have been proven wrong. I’m just still waiting for him to blow me away, and I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon. Sorry, Leo.