Leonardo DiCaprio

The Great Gatsby (2013)

Bonds salesman by day/writer by night, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) moves to the village of West Egg in Long Island to take a big bite out of the Big Apple, and potentially realise his dreams. Only ever drunk twice, Carraway is a wide-eyed innocent in a manner usually reserved for puppies in windows.

His second cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan) lives across the bay in East Egg and it’s there that he joins her for polite meals and woolly conversations. Daisy is married to Thomas Buchanan (Joel Edgerton), a broad stroke of old money and compacted arrogance who is also rogering the wife of a poor mechanic. Whilst Tom’s infidelities are well known by Daisy, she fails to react. Instead choosing to hide behind the carefree visage of a flapper.

Everything in Caraway’s life, however, is peachy, if a little dry and uninspiring. Soon, Carraway quickly becomes enamoured with the idea of his Nuevo riche neighbour, Jay Gatsby (Leonard DiCaprio). An enigma to seemingly all, Carraway watches the glow of Gatsby’s all night parties from his porch until one day he is finally invited to attend one. In doing so, Carraway becomes embroiled in events that will pierce right to centre of his own life, as well as Daisy’s.

And that’s the best place to leave it for fear of ruining some of the joy of discovery.

The Great Gatsby, as a novel, is synonymous with being a slight but powerfully poetic tale that nearly no one can find fault with. So it’s understandable that some balked at the idea of Luhrmann touching it. This is the man who, in previous movies, placed a gun in Romeo’s hand and conducted a gang of elderly horny men to sing a chorus of Smells like to Teen Spirit. He likes to experiment to the potential detriment of the original text.

For those looking for a restrained interpretation of the American Dream dissected should seek solace elsewhere. The Great Gatsby is as vibrant and colossal as one of the titular rich boy’s parties. Filmed in 3D, Gatsby doesn’t just reach out to the symbolic green light, he reaches out to us; All very showy and almost shallow. Almost being the operative word here, for Luhrmann has hung his narration on the device that Carraway is recalling the story 15 years later from the safety of a doctor’s office, where he is being treated for depression. Whilst this does cause problems for the flow of the film by sporadically slowing it down – ‘You must write this down’ the doctor cries in one of the film’s acts of onanism – it serves as a gateway to Carraway recalling the events of yesteryear. This puts the film in a constant state of heightened reality. The raucous parties, the vilification of Gatsby’s obsessive character… It’s all there, but maybe Carraway just isn’t that reliable a narrator. Even if the details have eroded away, the emotions have stayed.

And focussing all our attention on the big party pieces that Lurhmann gives us, negates the moments of intimacy the film provides. ‘I like big parties. They’re so intimate’ says Daisy’s golf pro friend Jordan ‘At small parties there isn’t any privacy.’ And Luhrmann proves this later on in a cramped sweltering hotel room, where our protagonists have holed themselves in a vain attempt to escape the summer. As the afternoon wears on, Tom and Gatsby politely go toe to toe, with Tom getting the upper hand through a verbal death of a thousand cuts. Joel Edgerton is wonderful as he stalks the scenes, taking pot shots whenever he can at Gatsby – The man from oxford in the pink suit.

And what of Gatsby himself? Like the film, we’ve waited a while to reveal him. DiCaprio, despite some hesitance on our part, is completely believable as the lovelorn and mysterious Gatsby. He owns every scene he’s in, willing to show Gatsby as vulnerable when needed.  It’s a shame then that Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire fail to sparkle. It’s not that they can’t act, it’s just they seem to solely be there to react to things. In the instance of Carraway this can be justified, but for Daisy who plays a large part in Gatsby’s life, it’s a bit of problem. At times, we’re never truly convinced that she warrants so much attention from Gatsby.

There are many angles with which to take Gatsby and whilst Luhrmann’s does not contain the florid nature of Fitzgerald’s verse, the book will still be there for those who need it. Luhrmann has made a bold movie that does something the serious analysis and coveting of the text will not achieve, it opens it up to the wider public. Like Gatsby himself, The Great Gatsby has got to be like this. It’s got keep moving on. And if it makes someone pick up a copy on their way back from the cinema what harm has it really done?


The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

The Wolf of Wall Street plays like a Martin Scorcese greatest hits album. Whirling camera work, extensive, continual jukebox selection, amorality, marriage breakdown, rise and fall stories, law breaking, cocaine, bad metaphors, cocaine, pills, asides to the camera, paranoia, sharp suits and most of all, cocaine all make plenty of appearances. Scorcese appears to have made a homage to himself and in particular, Goodfellas. In Goodfellas, however, all he asked of us was to empathise with gentlemen who made money off theft, blood, prostitution, drugs and protection. The Wolf of Wall Street asks us to empathise with REAL scumbags – corrupt stockbrokers. Fortunately it doesn’t ask too hard.

The plot, which could be explained with the equation; ((Wall Street x 10) + Goodfellas) x amateur pornography, is based on the life and subsequent book of Jordan Belfort who together with Donny Potash (Donny Azoff here) formed the Stratton Oakmont brokerage firm which existed primarily to swindle people out of money with a “boiler room” fake stock strategy. Starting out ripping off average joes, Belfort realised if he applied his selling principles to the “real stock market he could defraud the richest of clients. Greed is good multiplied by a factor of one thousand. In the film, Belfort shows the same contempt for his audience as he does for the people he defrauds (legally and illegally), repeatedly turning to the camera and telling us we don’t need to understand how they are making millions, just that they are. Or he begins to explain financial procedure and gives up on us, a nice nod to the labyrinthine structures of finance created by rich men to make themselves richer. In Belfort’s world money only flows to him. The client is as unimportant as us.

As Jordan and Donny begin to make serious money their egos increase and their appetites spiral downwards. Scenes of such consumption fly past at a rate impossible to remember. EBFS stopped counting the jaw dropping moments where swaggering pricks consider themselves both invulnerable to and above the law and any reasonable code of ethics. Within the opening two minutes, car based blow jobs and cocaine blown up posteriors has occurred and that’s just to get us up and running. Offensive conversations about dwarves, dwarf tossing, Jonah Hill masturbating in public, plane based orgies and “hilarious” racism follow. One scene involving DiCaprio’s rectum and a lit candle has joined Tommy Lee Jones and Joe Pesci spray painted gold and whipping each other in JFK at the top of our “things we thought we’d never see” list. Cars are crashed, boats are crashed, helicopters are crashed, lives are crashed. Not that our protagonists notice. They just carry on with gleeful, sadistic abandon, assuming they’ve unlocked life’s secret and refusing any responsibility. The sheer volume and length  of some scenes of depravation are presumably there to desensitise us to the acts in the same way Belfort and his cronies have been, whilst distracting us from the lives at stake off screen, just as the stockbrokers attempts to get more and more “fucked up” presumably distracted them. It works, just, only occasionally falling into heavy handedness with all the subtlety of the rat/city hall interface that close The Departed.

DiCaprio, who’s acting has been on a spectacular run of late all the way up to Monsieur Candie in Django Unchained, has improved with every Scorcese collaboration after a shaky start in Gangs of New York. His tortured, undercover cop in The Departed showed real pain. If anything, this may be his best performance yet. Slick, confident, disgraceful and a tour de force of persuasion, his sharp suits clashing with his dyed hair, his drug sweats and gluttonous eyes. Avarice glitters through every move he makes. Jonah Hill, by contrast, is grotesque, a leering, chubby, watery, horse toothed sloth of a man, riddled with inferiority but blessed with enough chutzpah and money to try to cover it up. He’ll get an Oscar nomination because the academy members probably struggled to avert their eyes. His performance is the wound you can’t itch. The two of them are supported by a willing cast of circus freaks, gurners and grifters (Spike Jonze, Jon Favreau, Matthew McConaughey…..erm, Joanna Lumley, that guy who can’t see the sailboat in Mallrats, Jean Dujardin) who hang out, fuck up and gradually drop out. Oh, and Kyle Chandler does his best Max Cherry impression as the FBI agent on Belfort’s case who is rewarded with the loneliest scene in the movie. So, well done him.

As the third hour lurches into life, Belfort’s monster begins to unravel. Scorcese sets up a teasing, fake ending then yanks it out from under us, exposing us more harshly to the following scenes of domestic violence, paranoia, backstabbing and mortality from which the Stratton Oakmont people thought themselves immune. The comeuppance, we think, the deserving comeuppance that must surely be coming is right around the corner. The wimper that follows is the most devastating thing of all. At the end, as the loop is completed, there has been no downward spiral, no learned life lessons. These people were contemptible to begin with. At best, they go from utterly amoral to venally immoral. Like Henry Hill’s “the rest of my life as a schmuck” speech, Belfort whines and moans at his meagre punishment, then celebrates how the rich never really have to suffer. Utterly repellent to the end, Belfort’s rise and fall may be both a familiar Scorcese trope and filmic theme but the lack of any effect on it’s King Lear lends a vicious poignancy to proceedings. Still way too long, mind.

J. Edgar (2011)

There are two main storylines plaited through J. Edgar, Clint Eastwood’s 32nd body of work . The first is a by the numbers, rise to power tale of J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) powerfully rising through the ranks of the FBI. The second sees the powerfully risen J. Edgar Hoover ghostwriting his rising of power whilst simultaneously trying to stop someone rising to power in American politics. During the 137 minute running time, neither amounts to anything more solid than cappuccino fluff, wrapped in pastry.

So, where does it all go wrong? Pretty much everywhere to be frank. It’s like a buffet of poor decisions and ill-judged moments, washed down with a glass of Châteauneuf-du-Poop.

Screenwriter, Dustin Lance Black, gave us 2008’s Milk, which not only reeked of Walk Hard dialogue (‘It’s more than an issue. This is our life we’re fighting for.’), but also turned the assassination of one of the key spokespersons for gay rights into nothing more than a hideously melodramatic affair. With J. Edgar, his tropes are still there for all to see. The dialogue clunks along with all the panache of a Twilight fan fiction (‘All the admiration in the world can’t fill the spot where love goes.’) and he deals with key moments of Hoover’s life with the delicacy of a steamroller. We’re not going to enter the debate of whether Hoover was a transvestite or not, but we imagine if he was, it wouldn’t have happened in the way it fell out of Black’s head (Hello mummy issues!).

Eastwood’s direction fails to add anything to the limp script and his control over everything makes it feel like a 6th form performance or TV drama. In fact, if this were on ITV2 during a rainy Sunday afternoon and you’d finished descaling the teapot, then you may find yourself watching it. And like Heartbeat and Doc Martin, you wouldn’t come running into the office on Monday morning telling everyone to watch it. You’d probably fail to even acknowledge its presence. The direction really does have the bite and taste of a diluted glass of milk.

We would like to say that at least the actors step up to the plate with some sense of talent, but, quite frankly,  the casting is way off. Hamster faced man-child, Leonardo DiCaprio utterly fails to come even close to being believable. Adopting a Jack Webb tone of voice, DiCaprio goosesteps through the Bureau like a child demanding a glass of cola before bed rather than a forefather of criminal investigation.

When you put together a biopic on Hoover, the subject of his sexuality is going to crop up and so it falls to Armie Hammer to play Hoover’s protegé and possible lover, Clyde Tolson. Hammer comes off a bit better in this regard and at least attempts to add some weight to his performance. In fact, his scenes with DiCaprio are probably some of the best parts of the film, but really, that’s not saying much. Constantly flipping between ‘are they or aren’t they?’, the film doesn’t really make a stand until two-thirds in by which point, DiCaprio’s pouting will have poisoned your mind so much that you’ll be screaming at Tolson to run for the hills.

As we’re covering pretty much a large part of Hoover’s life, this means we have to endure old man make up. Every time we return to OAP Hoover and Tolson, it’s almost laughable. Shaking like a dog is humping your leg is not ‘acting’ old. Returning to our 6th form performance comparison,  they may as well have thrown flour in DiCaprio’s hair and had him say ‘ooh, I’m 62 you know’. With this and Prometheus, there appears to be an alarming trend to use prosthetics on the young rather than use those other things… You know… They look like young people, but they’re wrinkly… That’s right, old people.

J. Edgar is a painful, horrible fart of a movie. Aside from looking at our watches, we couldn’t help thinking about James Ellroy’s fantastic Underworld USA Trilogy and how those three books say a damn sight more than this ever will. If anyone disagrees, just remember, we have files on you.