Very strong feelings out there. Most basically agree with me, some come to his defense saying he’s a great actor. So let just answer that: That’s not the point. I think he’s a good actor — though not as good as some claim. But, that’s a side issue. If I wanted to talk about bad actors I get all Ben Affleck on you. There’s just something about him.
So, as this reader notes, I just don’t think he can pull off certain roles:
Try to think of him as Sam Spade or Rick Blaine without laughing?
How about as Shane? Or anyone present at the OK Corral–even the younger brother.
Or as Roger Thornhill? Or Rocky? Or any character at all in the (first two) Godfather films?
Other readers intimate it’s his new-agey, crunchy personality:
Heavens no, you’re not projecting personal distaste.
I would think many proud bearers of testicles feel the
same way. There is just something inherently odd
about him, almost sitting there, whispering from your
shoulder “it would be fun to kick his ass, and people
would thank you for it.”
All the other actors you name have their strengths and
at least seem like they would be moderately
interesting to sit down with over a beer. In Leo’s
case, he’s likely to ask if the beer is organic before
you realize the best course of action is to dump it
over his head and go outside to key his Prius.
I think there’s something to that, but it’s a bit off. I assume that sort of lifestyle is the norm with lots of actors I like. I really like John Cusack and I think Tim Robbins can be great, but I have no doubt I would have a real hard time dealing with them off-screen.
I largely share your opinions on Leonardo DiCaprio. Back when “Titanic” came out and people (mainly women) were singing its praises, I’d always feel the need to interject, “My favorite part was when Leonardo DiCaprio drowned.” I think the reason that he turns so many men off is that he always gets the girl by being more sensitive and understanding than the other guy, rather than by blowing the other guy up like most of the other big male leads that you mentioned. We hate him for the same reason that we cheered Bluto when he smashed the folk singer’s guitar against the wall – men don’t like the message that is sent when the more sensitive guy wins.
The new diamond movie with him in it looks like it has some action and explosions in it, so maybe I could be persuaded to see it, but it’s hard to shake those initial images.
Frederica Mathewes-Green wrote a very interesting piece on the larger phenomenon of un-grown-up-ness, of which DiCaprio is emblematic, for First Things. An excerpt:
Today actors preserve an unformed, hesitant, childish quality well into middle age. Compare the poised and debonair Cary Grant with Hugh Grant, who portrayed a boyish, floppy-haired ditherer till he was forty. Compare Bette Davis’ strong and smoky voice with Renée Zellweger’s nervous twitter. Zellweger is adorable, but she’s thirty-five. When will she grow up?
In a review in the Village Voice of the film The Aviator, Michael Atkinson dubbed our current crop of childish male actors “toddler-men.” “The conscious contrast between baby-faced, teen-voiced toddler-men movie actors and the golden age’s grownups is unavoidable,” he wrote. “Though DiCaprio is the same age here as Hughes was in 1934, he may not be convincing as a thirty-year-old until he’s fifty.” Nobody has that old-style confident authority any more. We’ve forgotten how to act like grownups.
And James Lileks writes in to get my back:
I agree with you on Leonardo – not just the disinterest, but the
inexplicable quality of his unmanliness. It’s as if whatever
testosterone he possesses was applied topically, in salve form. I
didn’t buy him as Howard Hughes, but then again, I thought John
Waters was perfect for that role, so what do I know.