LEONARDO DICAPRIO, THE WOLF WITH THE (BAD) NOMINATIONS HABIT
The Wolf of Wall Street, due for its American release on 15 November, reaffirms the long established association between director Martin Scorsese and actor Leonardo DiCaprio. Italian audiences, meanwhile, have to wait until December 12 to see it in the cinemas.
The new film is based on Jordan Belfort’s autobiographical novel of the same name. In the nineties Belfort was the boy wonder of finance whose rise to the top came to a sudden halt with a twenty-two month prison sentence for fraud and money laundering. The ex “wolf” of Wall Street, at the age of only twenty-six, had set up a boiler room (a tele-marketing operation for the sale of questionable financial products) from which began a ruthless sales campaign for investments including stocks under the motto “pump and dump”. The value of the stocks was artificially “pumped” through the use of mostly false statements before being “dumped” at a profit. Belfort perfectly embodies the American dream of success within easy reach in the country where everything seems possible and where the philosophy of life “Yes we can!” is capable even of leading to the presidency. On his release from prison in 1998, Belfort wrote two autobiographies: The Wolf of Wall Street and Catching the Wolf of Wall Street both of which became best sellers, published in fifty countries and translated into eight languages. Belfort transformed himself into his best product and after prison returned to the spotlight this time in the role of motivational speaker. Martin Scorsese, decided to adapt the first book for the screen but the project failed to get the support of Warner Bros.Shortly afterwards in 2010 Scorsese started filming Shutter Island with Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead. The two had first worked together years before in Gangs of New York (2002) which told the story of the multi-ethnic clash of criminal gangs in New York at the beginning of the last century. The cast featured a large number of familiar faces and was filmed almost entirely in Cinecittà. The Scorsese-DiCaprio collaboration continued with The Aviator (2004), The Departed (2006), Shutter Island (2010) and the upcoming The Wolf of Wall Street.
Leonardo DiCaprio is a multi-talented, versatile actor who in the course of his career has had to deal with the fame achieved with a blockbuster of the proportions of James Cameron’s Titanic (1997), an example of a genre that may reap its rewards at the box office but is not generally rewarded by the critics. His performance in the role of Jack Dawson, a psychologically two-dimensional character, caused a setback in the career of the up to then boy wonder.
Over a period of just three years DiCaprio had previously given a series of subtle performances that had won the admiration of audiences and critics alike beginning with This Boy’s Life in 1993 – a role he got on the insistence of Robert DeNiro. In the same year What’s eating Gilbert Grape, by Swedish director Lasse Hallström, conquered the audience with its moving depiction of a mentally disabled adolescent who is taken care of by his older brother Gilbert (Johnny Depp) who, following their father’s suicide, also acts as caregiver to their obese mother. The role brought DiCaprio his first Oscar and Golden Globe nominations in the category of best supporting actor.
The untimely death by overdose of River Phoenix outside a club in Los Angeles, which took place in the presence of his brother Joaquin; Depp, the owner of the club; Keanu Reeves; and Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers was the unhappy circumstance which brought the still teenage DiCaprio his first starring roles: The Basketball Diaries and Total Eclipse, the latter recounting the story of the romantic relationship between Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine.
In 1996 the Australian Baz Luhrmann, director of the recent flop The Great Gatsby, offered him the role of the romantic hero of Verona in a contemporary transposition of Shakespeare’s play – including updating the title: Romeo + Juliet:
Over the course of his career of more than twenty years (counting early TV programmes) DiCaprio has worked with all the great contemporary masters who continue to offer him ever more interesting and sometimes controversial parts. The list is a long one starting with the work filmed with Scorsese, continuing with Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar (2011) where he plays the founder of the FBI. There is also Catch Me If You Can Spielberg (2002) in the role of a con man who instead of ending his days in prison collaborates with the justice system. DiCaprio also gives a perfect performance in the role the repulsive Calvin J. Candie, the owner of a Southern cotton plantation in the most recent Quentin Tarantino offering Django Unchaind, released in Italian cinemas in early 2013. All his colleagues in the film received Oscar nominations, but as usual, the Academy does not seem to pay him the attention he deserves.
Looking at DiCaprio’s filmography and focusing on the types of roles for which he was cast, what emerges from the large number of biographies he has interpreted is his chameleon-like ability to respect the identity of the personality portrayed and his ability to bring it as close as possible to the dimension of the real. Despite his age, DiCaprio’s still somewhat immature physical appearance, his refined facial features, his blue eyes and fair hair are all perhaps elements that deceive the more acerbic viewers as well as the critics on the panels international competitions.
His filmography also includes a little gem which, amazingly, seems to have gone unnoticed: Revolutionary Road (2008) which reunited the couple DiCaprio – Winslet, under the direction of Winslet’s then husband, Sam Mandes. The film, from the novel of the same title by New Yorker Richard Yates, is centered on the unhappiness of a seemingly serene wife April (Winslet). Frank, the husband (DiCaprio), is a man no longer driven by the curiosity for the world which before marriage had pushed him to move to Paris, the city where “people live and really feel”. After marriage he settles into the tedium of life as employee, husband and father. April, however, had chosen him because of their shared passions and she hoped not to limit her existence to the role of housewife. The performances given by both leads are intimate and at times very moving, something made possible by the close friendship that links the two actors in real life. Both DiCaprio and Winslet were nominated for a Golden Globe with Winslet winning the award and once more DiCaprio being snubbed at the Oscar nomination stage.
The relationship with Scorsese, with whom he co-produced the latest film, is an association of long standing which has taken the place in the collective imagination of the decades long collaboration with Robert De Niro. It is characteristic of Scorsese that he forms lasting bonds with his actors, defining a recognizable style not only through the individualization of the stylistic characteristics, but also through the recurring faces that have animated the characters of his stories. In the writing of the latest work, in fact, he has also made use once again of the skills of scriptwriter Terence Winter with whom he was involved in the drafting of the opening episode of the hugely successful HBO television series Board Walk Empire.
Alongside the main character in The Wolf of Wall Street, there is also Jean Dujardin, the French actor who hit the limelight with The Artist, Rob Reiner, and judging from the trailer, a surprising Matthew McConaughey in the role of a neurotic business man. In the few sequences released for promotion, McConaughy’s once athletic body appears marked by the strict diet he was subjected to for The Dallas Buyer’s Club, a feature film due for release at the same time as the Scorsese movie and also dealing with a biographical storyline.
Although they are just guesses, there are indications that next year’s Academy Award nominations could see Matthew McConaughey and Leonardo DiCaprio compete in the same category. In the absence of oversights or errors in the selection process, we could see the race between two biographical performances of two actors both hampered by their good looks.