Scorsese's New Muse? Not So Fast.
Date of Assessment: February 19, 2010
Positive Buzzwords: Professional, dedicated, charismatic
Negative Buzzwords: Heartthrob, brooding, typecast
The Case: Honestly, who would have thought that a young actor who made his big-screen debut in Critters 3: You Are What They Eat would go on to become the next so-called muse of Martin Scorsese? Together, Leonardo DiCaprio and Scorsese have teamed up for Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed, and, finally, this weekend's Shutter Island. This love affair ain't over yet, for there are two more possible projects -- with Wall Street corruption and Viking adventure themes -- under consideration by the pair. Yet another possibility lies within the rumor that Scorsese has DiCaprio earmarked for a Frank Sinatra biopic. And since Scorsese made nine films with Robert De Niro (over a period of twenty-three years), his long-running fascination with an actor shouldn't come as terribly surprising news. Yet, in the long run, is this really the best career move for DiCaprio?
First, let's reflect upon how this all happened... it seems that, at a relatively early age and shortly after the aforementioned Critters 3, DiCaprio caught the eye of Robert De Niro himself during an audition for This Boy's LIfe, in which DiCaprio won the role of De Niro's son. The young bloke went on, shortly thereafter, to give such an outstanding performance in the quirky-as-hell What's Eating Gilbert Grape? that he received his first Oscar nomination at age 19. A few years later, DiCaprio had sufficiently diversified his resume; but then made a decision he later regretted by turning down the lead role in Boogie Nights (yes, Dirk Diggler) to play Jack Dawson in James Cameron's Titanic, a sprawling epic that caused "Leomania" to reach a worldwide frenzy of swooning teenage girls. Titanic, along with Romeo + Juliet, sealed his fate as a reliable and dashing leading man, not to mention a bankable one who has settled at around $20 million per film. However, the commercial success of Titanic overshadowed DiCaprio's former critical acclaim and left him facing a future as a romantic leading man. Rather than quit the acting business, which was his initial reaction, DiCaprio took a few tentative steps with The Man in the Iron Mask (a commercial and critical success) and The Beach (a bare-chested failure on both ends) but then found himself without a clue as to where his career was headed.
It was then that De Niro convinced Scorsese to cast DiCaprio in Gangs of New York, and, from that point on, this actor-director bond has predominated most discussion of DiCaprio's legacy thus far. And, yes, these two have created some pretty great films. However, despite a brief respite in Steven Spielberg's relatively light-hearted Catch Me If You Can, the past decade of DiCaprio's career has been painted in monochromatic shades of darkly dramatic roles -- from characters disillusioned with suburbia to hardened law enforcement types to those with serious mental illness -- one ultimately realizes that a DiCaprio film won't be a carefree, exuberant romp. Although this period in his career has remained financially lucrative, and he has earned two more Oscar nominations for The Aviator and Blood Diamond (under director Edward Zwick), it's quite easy to believe that the almighty pursuit of the Oscar is now driving DiCaprio's choice of roles. As Leo throws himself headlong into each movie, he emotes as if his very essence depends upon playing a role while maintaining a sense of artificiality about it all. One never really forgets that it is Leonardo DiCaprio, actor, who graces the celluloid screen, rather than the characters that he should embody. Of course, the fact that DiCaprio makes a habit of appearing alongside actors such as Daniel Day-Lewis (Gangs of New York) and Kate Winslet (Revolutionary Road) -- who both consistently deliver remarkably subtle and nuanced performances -- the difference of abilities is quite obvious. Perhaps, to gain some perspective, DiCaprio needs to step away from the Scorsese's virtual umbilical cord for more than just a movie at a time.
Look, I know that Leonardo DiCaprio has essentially crawled up Scorsese's ass and awaits further instructions to do as he pleases. Leo seems to fancy himself the next Robert De Niro, but does he really know what he's asking for? Sure, it's a respectable career, but it's going to be followed by a sharp decline. One day, DiCaprio may wake up to find himself starring in a remake of Meet the Fockers and appearing with Kate Winslet in Righteous Kill 2: Worst Twist Ending Since M. Night Shyamalan. And it won't be nearly as pretty a spectacle as Titanic fangirls would like to believe.
Prognosis: With no less than twenty-seven "In Development" credits on IMDb, DiCaprio has no future financial worries of which to speak. However, he's reached the point where all this seriousness puts him in jeopardy of unintentional self-parody. Just as Christian Bale has become known for his intensity and periodic bursts of shouting at the camera, DiCaprio has become a mass of furrowed eyebrows, random facial hair, and mislaid Bostonian accents. If his early career is any indication, Leonardo DiCaprio is capable of much more than that.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.