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Leonardo DiCaprio Tag

GATSBY poster

There will be no hating on The Great Gatsby from this corner. The knives have been out since late last year, when it was bumped from a Christmas release to today, always a suspicious, what are they hiding, move–but, really, you could feel the disdain since Baz Luhrmann, the director-as-impresario behind Strictly Ballroom (1992) and Moulin Rouge! (2001), announced that he was reteaming with Leonardo DiCaprio, the star of his unorthodox William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996), for another adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic. It’s not that this, or any, book, is unfilmable (how can that be, when respectable-to-excellent versions of Cloud Atlas, Naked Lunch, and The Unbearable Lightness of Being are available?)–it’s just that a good movie has never been made from it, including the two most accessible, the stillborn 1974 dud with a cordwood Robert Redford as Gatsby and a horrid 2000 TV movie with the implausible Mira Sorvino as Daisy.

The chief sticking point, however, is

djangoQuentin Tarantino’s western isn’t quite the masterpiece as Inglourious Basterds or Pulp Fiction, but it’s still a resounding piece of great cinema. Tarantino’s statement of the horrors of slavery and the effect it has on the human psyche represents one of his most thoughtful motion pictures. Having seen it during its theatrical release, I gladly accepted the assignment of taking another look at Django Unchained.

Upon second viewing, I was once again blown away by the filmmaking; Tarantino remains at the top of his game and one of the most inventive directors working today. There is plenty of humor, violence and snappy dialogue. The cinematography is top notch, and the eclectic selection of music is inspired and at times ironic. To me, what I found especially enlightening about Django Unchained was depth of character and the relationship Tarantino built between his two leads, Django (Jamie Foxx) and Dr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz).

Body of Lies (2008, Warner Bros.)
purchase this DVD (Amazon)

Ridley Scott directing Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe in a big-budget action epic — it’s gotta be a surefire box-office phenomenon, right? Nine times out of 10, probably — but unfortunately for Scott, DiCaprio, and Crowe, not to mention the folks at Warners, last year’s Body of Lies proved the exception, landing with a thud behind Beverly Hills Chihuahua and only earning back its $70 million budget with its overseas grosses. Why? It’s about the war, stupid — specifically, the War on Terror, which has proven to be commercial poison for a long list of movies that includes In the Valley of Elah and Stop-Loss.

It would be nice if I could tell you that Body of Lies didn’t deserve its fate, and that it was better than your average explosions-in-the-desert thriller, but I can’t; really, at bottom, it’s everything you’d expect from Ridley Scott — an intricate, moderately paced, old-fashioned espionage flick, with the same slick cinematography and beautiful shots of stuff blowing up you’ve seen in action movies for the last 25 years. This sets it apart from the rest of the Iraq-inspired movies of the last few years, insofar as it’s got an old-school ’80s setup lurking beneath its ripped-from-the-headlines storyline, but ultimately, neither Scott nor screenwriter William Monahan (who adapted the David Ignatius novel) can come up with a movie that really works, either as an action thriller or a political statement.

It isn’t for lack of pedigree. In DiCaprio and Crowe, Scott has two of the more capable leads he could have asked for, but the material doesn’t play to their strengths — DiCaprio, for starters, is never all that believable as Roger Ferris, the globetrotting CIA agent who understands the Arab world better than his oily boss, Ed Hoffman (Crowe). Farris is a sensitive, morally conflicted action hero — sort of a cross between, say, Alan Alda and Sly Stallone — the type of character who’s delivering heavy-handed diatribes against the American execution of the war when he isn’t running from explosions or getting into alley fights. He’s a rather transparent vehicle for the movie’s message, in other words, and in order to deliver it successfully, he needed to be played sensitively — in other words, certainly not with the silly drawl DiCaprio gives him. It’s enough to take you out of the movie during some of its most crucial moments, which is a shame, because by combining good old-fashioned action with current events, Body of Lies had the potential to be something special.

Body of Lies didn’t have to do much to impress me. It’s the first movie I’ve seen since becoming a dad, and the switch from explosive poops to plain old explosions was a comfort. But I must have gotten rusty over the last two months. It is my duty to tell you the plot of this movie, and I confess I can only start at about the 90-minute mark, when after a great deal of strenuous editing the movie caught its breath and became a post-9/11 version of The Sting. As far as I could make out, Leonardo DiCaprio’s conflicted CIA operative flim-flammed a Mideast businessman, a minor cog in Al-Qaeda’s wheel, into a big fish, to draw out the bigger fish that his untrustworthy boss, Russell Crowe, was interested in. Part of this ruse involved DiCaprio pretending to be an average Mideast citizen, but Leo dressed as an average Mideast citizen looks like Leo dressed as an average Mideast citizen, and neither the terrorist bigwigs he’s after nor I were born yesterday.

I’m not really knocking Leo, or Body of Lies, which cuts a few corners in the logic department to get the job done but is more efficiently locked and loaded than Ridley Scott’s last picture, the draggy and morally distasteful American Gangster. That one smacked you upside the head with its posturing, and embalmed period recreation; this one takes place in our fubar world, with DiCaprio, last seen slogging through Sierra Leone circa 1999 in Blood Diamond, dispatched to the fresher hells of Iraq and Jordan to atone once more for the West’s hypocritical sins. Like Jake Gyllenhaal’s pained CIA analyst in last fall’s war-on-terror flop Rendition, DiCaprio’s Roger Ferris is about the only standup guy in the movie—which is rather difficult to reconcile with what we know of the agency’s egregious involvement in our present regional difficulties. The notion of a “good” CIA agent is hard to swallow, even in a potboiler like this one.