Friday, July 1, 2011

2012 May Be Leonardo DiCaprio's Year

I don't count myself as a big fan of Leonardo DiCaprio, but I've seen him around for years, and I respect his work. He was one of the first movie stars I was really aware of as he became a movie star, moving from a short stint on the sitcom "Growing Pains," to indie fare like "This Boy's Life" and "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" to headlining one of the biggest blockbusters of the '90s, "Titanic." And then, as is the case with too many of the actors of his generation, he promptly decided to distance himself from his teen idol status, and went off to make a lot of serious dramatic movies for the next decade. This nabbed him Academy Award nominations for "The Aviator" and "Blood Diamond," but I don't think I've seen the guy crack a smile onscreen since "Catch Me If You Can" in 2002. Many critics noted that DiCaprio's two 2010 films, "Shutter Island" and "Inception," had him play variations on the same guilt-stricken father with a tenuous grip on reality. As good as he is in these roles - and he is good - you can't help feeling that DiCaprio has fallen into a bit of a rut, or is overcompensating for his earlier mainstream roles.

This may change in 2012. Right now Leonardo DiCaprio is finishing up a J. Edgar Hoover biopic with Clint Eastwood, which should reach screens by the end of the year. Then he'll head to Australia to play the title role in "The Great Gatsby" for Baz Luhrmann. J. Edgar Hoover and Jay Gatsby should be great fodder for interesting performances, and might even put him in awards contention again. But what intrigues me are the roles that might come after that, which DiCaprio is currently circling.

First there's Calvin Candie, the villainous plantation owner in Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained." According to the synopsis over at Indie Wire, Candie is an eccentric Francophile who insists on being addressed as "Monsieur," owns a seedy club called Candyland, and also deals in "mandingo fighting slaves." We're not just talking about a villain here, but a wildly over-the-top Tarantino villain with an extra helping of shlock. You couldn't ask for a better departure from DiCaprio's recent string of intense, gloomy leading men. I'm not sold on "Django Unchained" yet, and have deep reservations about some of the content that's supposed to be in it, especially after what Tarantino did with WWII in "Inglorious Basterds." But if the film does go ahead, it would be so satisfying to see DiCaprio break from form and do something this potentially fun and deranged. The scheduling might not work out though, since "Django" is supposed to begin shooting in the fall, and DiCaprio might not be done with "Gatsby" in time.

Moving on, Deadline reported last month that Clint Eastwood wants DiCaprio as the male lead in "A Star is Born," opposite Beyoncé. At first glance this doesn't look too different from some of DiCaprio's other domestic dramas like "Revolutionary Road." "A Star is Born" in all its other incarnations pairs the ascent of the leading lady's career with the decline of her leading man's. So we can expect DiCaprio's character to fall into the misery of alcoholism, unemployment, and depression by the end of the movie. On the other hand, this is without a doubt a romantic lead role, and DiCaprio hasn't played one of those in years. That means he'll spend of a good chunk of the story actually doing the happy falling-in-love part that "Revolutionary Road" skipped, before he goes into all the angst and tragedy. A quick note - some other sources have postulated that since "A Star is Born" is a musical, DiCaprio might be called upon to sing alongside Beyoncé, but I'm doubtful. His character didn't sing in the first two versions, and only did in the 1976 one because they had Kris Kristofferson.

Beyond that, we move into more speculative territory. "The Wolf of Wall Street" with Ridley Scott is still inching forward, which would put DiCaprio back in a power suit. Michael Mann is apparently trying to get him onboard for "Gold," a contemporary thriller. And after four consecutive films together, a re-teaming of DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese is just a matter of time. However, my hope is that DiCaprio's horizons will broaden a bit and he'll try to do more adventurous stuff in the future too. Otherwise, it would be kind of a shame if he's stuck in this narrow category of heavy dramatic lead parts forever. The old school stars like Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart, and James Cagney may be known for certain types of roles, but they played everything. Hell, De Niro has been headlining comedies for the past ten years.

So why not DiCaprio in a squirrely indie dramedy? Or a musical? Or, heck, a superhero film? Maybe not as the hero, but wouldn't he make a great villain? Here's hoping that DiCaprio will take the chance to stretch a bit in 2012, and maybe even break out of that rut.

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