Inception,one of the most anticipated Hollywood films,is out mid-July. The excitement comes from the fact that it is helmed by Chris Nolan,the guy who got the Bat flying again,and its trailers are trading hotly. The fact that it has Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead is equally interesting: hes been an A-lister because of all the varied,high-profile projects hes done,but has never been in the same league as the talented Tom Hanks or the handsome Tom Cruise,or the dreamboat Brad Pitt,or the man-for-all-seasons Will Smith. Could it be because he never unfurrows his brow? We look at four of his films to see what makes Leo such an under-rated but special performer.
Danny Archer in Blood Diamond is a a mercenary turned diamond smuggler in Sierra Leone. Archer is practical and cynical whos only doing what he has to,to make a living. But he also has a nice side to him when he helps a local fisherman look for his lost son. For director Edward Zwick,the man looking for a diamond has an equivalence in the man looking for his son,raising the question what is valuable. It comes very strongly in this powerful,disturbing drama,and one of the reasons why we react this way to the film is the understated way Leo plays it.
In Martin Scorseses The Departed,Leo is Billy Costigan,a cop assigned to spy on the mob. Mob boss Jack Nicholson tests his endurance by kicking the sh*t out of him,in one of the films most hard-core scenes,but Leo doesnt melt. Hes up against a ferociously talented cast: apart from flinty-eyed Jack Nicholson,theres Matt Damon,the mobs man in the police force,and Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg as Leos handlers. In a film where everyone gets to use the f-word like they were toffees,you need to have presence to stay afloat. And the unshowy Leos that man.
In Ridley Scotts Body of Lies,Leo is Roger Ferris,CIAs man in Iraq,in the forefront of Americas murky war in the Middle East. It is a spy thriller flick,but still stands out because of the performances and its locations. The guy whos pulling Ferriss string is Russell Crowe,who makes the decisions from the comfort of his office and home in Washington,leaving Ferris to scramble for his life in a far away country,where his every move can have him blown into pieces. Scotts film puts the American position on Iraq on the line as a Hollywood potboiler can,and Leo does a good job of being a conflicted man in a conflict zone.
His best act,though,comes in Revolutionary Road,in which he plays one half of a married couple in a relationship heading south. They live in suburban Connecticut in the 50s. Frank and April get together like all young couples,in the heat of passion,and then live to regret it in their sedate,suburban,post-coital existence,where the children and the lawn mowing and the taking out the trash take precedence over the scintillating sex. In his directors commentary,Sam Mendes talks with admiration of both his leads (naturally,he says,hes biased because Kate Winslet is his wife). Leo has my undying respect and gratitude,he is so unafraid of playing weakness and manipulation and guilt, says Mendes. And you can see why he says it: Frank is a superb portrait of a man who has it all,and is unhappy with it,and without it,a man who likes to walk on the wild side,but is equally happy to come back to domesticity. You cant think of anyone else in that role other than Leo.