Friday Debate Number 2: What Is Leonardo DiCaprio’s Best Performance?

The actor is a staple in Hollywood, and has aced every movie he’s been in, but which performance is his best?

Calvin Candie in Django: Unchained – Dante Troina

dicaprio.jpgPicking which Leonardo DiCaprio role is the best is like picking your favorite kid. It’s a tough decision, every single option is great, and depending on what time it is, your answer could change. Between Shutter Island, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Departed, and many more, the list goes on and on for Oscar-worthy performances from Leo.

There is one role, however, that shows DiCaprio like you’ve never seen him before. I’m talking about his portrayal of Calvin Candie in Django: Unchained. In so many movies, Leo is the protagonist. Whether it’s avenging the death of his son in The Revenant, being the cop that just wants to do the right thing in The Departed, or even when he’s being an entertaining asshole in The Wolf of Wall Street or The Great Gatsby, DiCaprio’s characters all find ways to charm us in one form or another.

In Django, however, DiCaprio transcends all of his previous roles; fully committing to being a hate-filled, malicious slave owner. It’s the first role where he goes full-villain, and it completely subverts expectations – the first time I’ve ever seen Leo and thought, “wow, I really just hate this dude.”It wasn’t just a 180, it was a complete transformation of what I believed Leo to be capable of; and was a true testament to his acting versatility.

Throughout his performance as Candie, you can tell just how much fun DiCaprio is having playing the bad guy. His trademark smile from movies past turns into a devilish smirk that is still somehow charismatic. Candie is a straight racist, and is the character in the movie that gives it a real sense of thrill after the first half (which is more of an adventure flick). Every time DiCaprio is on screen, the film picks up and takes off into an extra gear. Even in scenes with extended dialogue, DiCaprio masterfully keeps the attention of the audience with his twisted sense of charisma.

Obviously, the role as Candie is great, but what makes it DiCaprio’s best? Well, watch:

The scene is completely improvised. Leo broke the glass in his hand on accident, and kept going. Director Quentin Tarantino has said in interviews that most of the dialogue wasn’t even written, DiCaprio just kept going. The scene garnered praise from actors on set, including Samuel L. Jackson and Jamie Foxx. When those two have nothing but good things to say about you, you’re doing something right.

It’s perhaps DiCaprio’s best scene of all-time – a career defining one at that, and pushes his performance into classic territory. Even as a bad guy, it’s impossible to see anyone not named Leo in the role as Candie. It’s the best he’s ever been, and the most he’s ever gotten to flex his range as an actor, proving that he’s not just a good guy in Hollywood, he’s an absolute force to be reckoned with.

Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street – Kody Malouf

The_Wolf_of_Wall_Street.pngLeonardo DiCaprio is one of the most pivotal actors of our generation, and since his introduction to mainstream Hollywood audiences in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape in 1993 he has taken on a number of iconic and famous roles. From Titanic to Shutter Island, Leo has proven his versatility and devotion to his craft throughout his career, but his best role without a doubt is his starring role as Jordan Belfort in Martin Scorsese’s 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street.

Now this is not to diminish any other of DiCaprio’s exceptional performances, one of the things that makes pinning down one role so difficult is the diversity of his catalog and the difficulty in comparing one role to another. But what truly sets his role in Wolf apart is his embrace and embodiment of the character. In case you live under a rock, The Wolf of Wall Street is based on the tell-all book written by real life former stockbroker and professional con man Jordan Belfort. But it’s not the fact that DiCaprio faithfully portrayed Belfort as a personality or figure, it’s that he was able to take the groundwork of the character from reality and build it into something insanely bigger. What makes his performance such a cornerstone of his career is the fact that he was able to cultivate a such a cult of personality around a real life person, one that makes us wish that the movie version of Belfort actually existed instead of the one that wrote the book.

The energy, the flamboyance, the raw charisma that Leo brings in every show stealing scene in Wolf is pure lighting in a bottle and it’s the entire driving engine behind the Best Picture nominated film. When he’s on screen DiCaprio is not an actor playing the role of Jordan Belfort, he is Belfort in every sense of his being. His performance is so integral the film that even when he’s not on screen, he’s still narrating what’s happening. It’s clear that Leo pulled out all the stops in not only his portrayal of Belfort as a personality, but also in his sheer devotion to the performance as a whole. This is most beautifully demonstrated during the sequence in which Belfort is physically incapacitated from a far too powerful dose of quaaludes. The drugs send Belfort into what he refers to as the “cerebral palsy stage” in which he is unable to walk, speak, or barely move. As Belfort hilariously attempts to get to his car, open the door, drive it, and later perform CPR on an equally high Donnie (Jonah Hill), you can’t help but picture all the takes and retakes and absolute commitment it took from DiCaprio and Hill to truly nail that scene.

DiCaprio’s performance in Wolf is impossible to categorize completely. His absolute dominance of the roll, the entire film, the supporting cast, and the audience are palpable and completely immerse the audience in the cinematic experience that is The Wolf of Wall Street. It’s safe to say that Wolf would not be at all the same film without Leo in the starring role, because with every f-bomb, every shady backdoor business move, every drug-fuelled eulogy he makes the audience love him. Not in a sympathetic way, but full on love and idolize this white-collar criminal with unabashed admiration. And while Matthew Mcconaughey was great in Dallas Buyers Club, it baffles me to this day how the Academy could have possibly given him the Best Leading Actor award instead of DiCaprio. Had Leo not have been robbed, I predict film fans as a collective would be citing Wolf almost unanimously has his best performance across the board.