With the "Titanic" to set sail soon in Malaysia and Singapore, it is worth having a look at the career of its "The King Of The World", Leonardo Dicaprio. As a Golden Globe Award-winner and Academy Award-nominee, Dicaprio is a force to be reckoned with, following his tour de force performance in James Cameron's critically-acclaimed disaster and romance epic that even spawned a period of "Leo-mania". It is ironic then that Dicaprio's career was never quite recovered from the sinking tragedy and has developed what could be called the "Shakespearean syndrome". Persons afflicted with this syndrome, particularly Dicaprio, tend to do their best and most memorable performances in tragic and tortured roles, possibly culminating in a death scene at the end. Fine, so we made up that syndrome, but that does not mean that what we said about Dicaprio is not true. Without further ado, let's take a look at some of his roles that fit into this stereotype but beware of spoilers ahead (except for "Titanic", we want you to watch that if you have not).
Howard Hughes, "The Aviator" (2004)
Martin Scorsese directs this biographical film about Howard Hughes, a successful film producer and aviation magnate who is also diagnosed with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder that causes him to grow increasingly unstable. The film centres on Hughes' life from the late 1920s to 1947 and features an ensemble cast of Cate Blanchett, John C. Reilly, Kate Beckinsale, Alec Baldwin and Jude Law, all of which play well-known people such as Katharine Hepburn, Ava Gardner and Errol Flynn, to name a few.
Tragedy: Leonardo Dicaprio gave one of his best performances as the obsessive-compulsive man whose brief period of glory comes with a price. When the FBI searched his house for evidence of his alleged war profiteering, you cannot help but feel sorry for this sad, tortured, yet earnest man, and rejoice with him when he seemingly recovers towards the end to defend himself against the criminal charges.
William "Billy" Costigan Jr., "The Departed" (2006)
Martin Scorsese's highly anticipated Hollywood remake of Hong Kong's 2002 crime thriller "Infernal Affairs" definitely did not let audiences and fans down. The film takes place in Boston, Massachusetts, where Irish Mob boss Francis "Frank" Costello (Jack Nicholson) plants Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) as an informant within the Massachusetts State Police. Simultaneously, the police assign undercover cop William "Billy" Costigan (Leonardo Dicaprio) to infiltrate Costello's crew. When both sides finally realise what is actually happening, each man attempts to discover the other's true identity before his own cover is blown.
Tragedy: Everyone dies, except for Mark Wahlberg. Even critics have taken to calling it an epic American tragedy so what did you think? It turns out that Costello has more than one mole in the police force, who ambushes Costigan, leading Dicaprio to an untimely and unjustified demise, considering that he's one of the few (if only), sane person.
Danny Archer, "Blood Diamond" (2006)
Released in the same year as Martin Scorsese's "The Departed", one had to wonder about Dicaprio's state of mind. Edward Zwick's political thriller may not have the grit or depth of the former, but it does not fall short of accolades' reception, with both its leads, Dicaprio and Djimon Hounsou nominated for the 79th Academy Awards for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor respectively. The film tells the story of a country torn apart by the struggle between government soldiers and rebel forces, with reference to the diamonds that are mined in African war zones and sold to finance conflicts to profit warlords and diamond companies across the world, hence, "blood diamonds".
Tragedy: Danny is wounded in a shootout with Colonel Coetzee (Arnold Vosloo) and his soldiers, who are Afrikaner mercenaries that are after the pink diamond. While bleeding heavily from his injuries, he manages to hold off their pursuers, leaving Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) and his son to escape and tell off their experiences at the conference on blood diamonds in Kimberley, South Africa.
Frank Wheeler, "Revolutionary Road" (2008)
Hailed as the could-be sequel to "Titanic", Sam Mendes' drama based on the 1961 novel of the same name by Richard Yates reunites Dicaprio and Kate Winslet's Jack and Rose in the form of Frank and April Wheeler, a couple who move into a new house in the suburbs to start a new life together, but soon find their relationship in troubled waters when their lifeless and repetitive lifestyle starts to take its toll.
Tragedy: What is more tragic than having the perfect household only to find it less than perfect when faced with it day after day? April longs to move to Paris after failing to make a career out of acting, believing that it would reinvigorate their lives while Frank tries to accept his mundane lifestyle instead, thinking that Paris is just a way of running way. This forces the two to ceaselessly argue, and in a moment of depression, April performs her own instillation abortion, which proves fatal, leaving Frank grief-stricken.
Teddy Daniels, "Shutter Island" (2010)
Considering the number of Martin Scorsese films that are on this list, it can be said that either Martin Scorsese is equally damaged or he knows how to bring out Dicaprio's best. "Shutter Island" is a psychological thriller based on Dennis Lehane's 2003 novel of the same name, about U.S. Marshal Edward "Teddy" Daniels, who is investigating a psychiatric facility located on Shutter Island due to reports of the disappearance of Rachel Solando, a patient of the facility who is admitted for drowning three of her children.
Tragedy: The movie is basically about the erosion of Teddy's confidence and identity, as a man who buried his memories of murdering his wife after she drowned their three children. When he finally discovers his identity and regains his memory, he has a choice to make, either to "live as a monster, or die as a good man." With cinematography such as that employed in the scene where Teddy hugs his wife, Dolores Chanal (Michelle Williams) as the place is engulfed in flames and she turns into ashes, his role in "Shutter Island" is definitely one that befits our Shakespearean hero.
Dom Cobb, "Inception" (2010)
No one does tragedy quite like Christopher Nolan. "Inception" features Nolan's usual combination of bittersweet poignancy with the heart-wrenching in the form of Dom Cobb, a skilled extractor whose work consists of extracting valuable commercial information from his target's unconscious minds while they dream. Due to a tragic incident in his past, Cobb is also wanted for murder, which renders him unable to visit his children. However, when the wealthy Mr. Saito (Ken Watanabe) approaches him with the payment of removing the charges and regaining his old life, Cobb is forced to take on a task considered nigh impossible, to perform inception.
Tragedy: Cobb is continually haunted by his dead wife, Mallorie (Marion Cotillard) in his dreams and his tasks, as the manifestation of his guilt over her death. Each time he is unable to kill her, but unable to go on if he does not do so, but when he finally obtains catharsis at the end, we are left wondering if Cobb ever survived his trip down into limbo or not.
J. Edgar Hoover, "J. Edgar" (2011)
Clint Eastwood may not have struck gold with his depiction of J. Edgar Hoover and the man's life, but Dicaprio has definitely continued his streak of tragic successes playing the titular lead. At times sad and at times frustrating, but never less powerful, Dicaprio externalises Hoover's inner struggle with a straightforward appeal as the man behind the director's chair in the FBI from the Palmer Raids onwards, who is also an alleged closeted and chaste homosexual.
Tragedy: It turns out that Hoover has exaggerated many of his involvements in the FBI operations, making him a delusional man who is eager for power and the maintenance of that power. At the same time, under his tough façade, he is a man who is worried about society's perception of him, refusing to admit his love openly to Tolson (Armie Hammer), following his mother's declaration that she would rather have a dead son than a "daffodil" for a son.
Cinema Online, 03 April 2012