There’s something incredibly fascinating about Leonardo Dicaprio. The Departed, Blood Diamond and many other films like these demonstrate his capacity to engage the audience and bring people along with him. The characters he plays, at least in the recent past have one thing in common and that is, intense desire. When learning to write screenplays it has been repeated relentlessly that the want vs need principle is central to the development of character in the traditional Hollywood film. Dicaprio is brilliant at taking the “want” and driving it through the film, it infects the audience, and thus we want what Leo’s character wants. He is the perfect lead in this respect, and brings to mind that old mantra, “never meet your heroes”. I’m sure he’d scare the crap out of me.
It’s an interesting contrast to Jonny Depp an actor who most people would put on a par to Dicaprio but in essence they play very different roles. Sleepy Hollow, Fear and Loathing and Pirates of the Caribbean demonstrate Depp’s ability to overcome one of the main barriers in films such as these – believability. Luckily Depp appears as strange as the characters he portrays and the roles tend to be differing shades of the same colour. Take one extreme Jack Sparrow and contrast it with Sweeny Todd or the dimension of the Mad Hatter. What do they have in common!? They are all on a certain level of crazy. Playing a crazy person is very difficult because we have to understand them to some extent. The script has to be sharp enough to accommodate this, and Depp does a very good job in this role. This is no different with Dicaprio who also has his perfected role, (the edgy, determined, lone ranger, being awfully cool all the time) but in my opinion, in Leo vs Jonny, Leo wins hands down. I don’t think this is necessarily a comment on either man’s acting ability but rather a personal preference in the films that they decide to take on. It seems to me that Depp’s role choices tend to offer little depth as half the time the audience is trying to overcome a whole range of other perception crises. What the hell is going on? Why is that world like it is? Who is the man with one arm and three eyes? Why can that owl talk? The list of weirdness goes on…
In contrast, take a film like Shutter Island. It helps that we have Martin Scorsese at the helm but from the moment we see poor old Teddy (Leo), being sick into a basin, we’re in. I’m aware the script is strong and has one of the most interesting twists I’ve seen for a long time; but what struck me was the ease with which I entered the world of Shutter Island and sympathised almost immediately with Dicaprio’s character. But what particularly made me want to revisit the film again in blog form was the final scenes in which Teddy reaches the lighthouse. I won’t spoil it for you. I suggest you watch it for yourself this weekend if you haven’t already. I will say however, that by the end, I was as paranoid as Teddy about what was going on. Paranoia about other characters is something I’ve never really experienced in a film before as in most films the goodies and the baddies are fairly transparent. Most cinema frequenters will see the light and the dark revealing themselves soon after the opening credits; they may as well be wearing badges – and most of the time they are. This is a testament to the performances of the actors surrounding Dicaprio in Shutter Island who are not quite as obvious. I am usually excellent at guessing the payoffs in films a mile away – often to the annoyance of my better half – but here was a film that I honestly couldn’t see coming in it’s conclusion. It might have been more obvious to some of you, but I was immersed from start to finish, it was truly a delight! In most films we watch the bluff, the man that seems good is bad. Shutter Island is a “double bluff” film and is more interesting as a result.
I’ve learned through the course of this very short film “career”, if you can call it that – probably not. That all actors play themselves to a degree. If we look at the greatest actors of our generation; Depp, Dicaprio, Day-Lewis – with the exception possibly of Heath Ledger’s Joker – we can see variances in the character’s these actors portray, or perhaps prefer to play, but ultimately they can never completely break away from our reality. The best actors in my view will help you to forget you are watching a film in the first few minutes and engulf you in the world of the story.