Leonardo DiCaprio received his sixth acting Oscar nomination for portraying Rick Dalton in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Leonardo DiCaprio returns to work with Quentin Tarantino, formerly taking on the over the top supporting villainous role in Django Unchained, this time taking on the lead role of Rick Dalton, a former TV western star now reduced to villain guest spots, and a potential career in bad Italian ripoffs. DiCaprio also makes a return, a most welcome return, to what is a comic star turn from him. One of DiCaprio's greatest cinematic talents is his star charisma, something he doesn't always call upon purposefully, but is always very welcome when he does. This is thankfully something he does make use of here in his portrayal of fading star Rick, though Rick is hardly DiCaprio playing himself, given that DiCaprio has never been anything but a star, and ole' Rick was never a star of DiCaprio's ilk either. DiCaprio then makes a great decision to play both into his star presence while fashioning a unique character in Rick Dalton through alterations to that presence. One important facet of his being his accent, which needs a special mention. This is as it is something that is just a brilliant starting point for his performance that he uses so effectively. This in portraying Rick Dalton basically as a Midwesterner, who came to Hollywood. This in that as we see Rick Dalton in official functions, speaking to director to management so on, he speaks with clearer voice closer to DiCaprio's own. A bit of of an accent but a light one. With Cliff Booth, or when he just can't help it, it drops into a much thicker accent of the place wherever he came from, and this just a fantastic touch right from the outset for DiCaprio.
DiCaprio's performance here is realizing the different sides of Rick Dalton. This as we see his attempting to be an unassuming charmer in the opening scene by meeting a potential new agent (Al Pacino), while really just hearing that his career is pretty dead. DiCaprio's terrific in this scene in his gentle thank you and affable demeanor, while hiding such very real concerned glances as the agent speaks of the poor prospects of his career before recommending that he star in Italian movies. This is against the very emotional Rick DiCaprio reveals moments later as he speaks about the meeting to his best friend Cliff, declaring that he is indeed a has been. Of course as much as this is a terrific bit of character realization by DiCaprio, more than anything this is just an extremely entertaining performance by him. This as his portrayal of the emotional Rick in this moment is absolutely hilarious in portraying such complete devastation, as he declares with such raw emotion that "no one likes Spaghetti westerns". DiCaprio is a hoot in a way by making use of the sort of petulant anger, that one might've argued as a weakness with some earlier dramatic turns of his, is made completely winning by using it for the comedic nature of Rick's struggle. This made all the more enjoyable as we see Rick's attitude turn around in a moment at seeing Sharon Tate and husband Roman Polanski drive by. DiCaprio's equally petulant excitement is wonderful in showing just how childish Rick is about the thing as he makes the change funny, but also natural in showing Rick's easy change in mindset.
As I mentioned in my review of Pitt, this is a proper star pairing where the two finding a great chemistry together. This in creating a sense of just assumed friendship between the two in their interactions, along with just terrific dynamic between Pitt as the straight man and DiCaprio as the showy one. Well DiCaprio does not waste his purposefully more overt performance, fitting particularly for the character that is Rick Dalton. This in portraying the over eagerness of the guy that DiCaprio makes almost bi-polar in his existence as the struggling star. This in creating such palatable desperation, however doing it in a way that isn't harrowing but rather very funny given Rick's prospects and state of being. Pitt provides that stability, and DiCaprio runs away with the almost insanity of the emotional Rick. This that continues as we see Rick go to his next TV guest spot for a pilot where he is set to play the heavy. Although these scenes theoretically could be the slow ones of the film, as they don't advance what seems to be the pseudo plot of the film, for me they are among the film's best, largely because of DiCaprio's portrayal of them. DiCaprio manages to realize with such eloquence the comic gold of Rick facing his none too great future when talking, before shooting, with a young child actor Trudi (Julia Butters). DiCaprio strikes up an amazing chemistry with her in just two scenes as he reacts towards her conversation with all the gravity as he though he would if he were speaking to some virtuoso acting teacher, while also underlining with this certain sweet charm more so towards just a little girl.
DiCaprio is fantastic in the scene though as Rick discusses the book he is reading about a fading rodeo cowboy, whose body is starting to fail him. DiCaprio is incredibly funny as he delivers this plot of the cowboy as this emotional breakdown he is suffering in the moment as Rick speaks of himself. It is marvelous work as he completely does bring to life Rick's plight, he just also makes it extremely humorous all the same. That in itself is but a warm up though, after Rick flubs a few of his lines of hist first scene leading to one of the best scenes in Leonardo DiCaprio's career. This as he portrays Rick's breakdown in his trailer, that was supposedly all ad-libbed by DiCaprio, and it is a masterful bit of comedy from DiCaprio. He's just perfect in the amount of intensity he brings in his anger as he kicks around the trailer in such a fuss, with yells of sheer hilarity at his failures going fully "native" with his accent. The greatest of this being DiCaprio impeccable realization of a stuttering mess he becomes as Rick wallows in his self-pity, that achieves that emotion but is also just so enjoyable to watch him do it as the pathetic lump that is Rick Dalton in the moment. He's not done though as he screams in anguish at his constant drinking, before the impeccable bit of physical comedy as he casually drinks from a flask, before blowing up in a rage all over again. DiCaprio though topping it all with his firm incisive delivery as he gives himself a death stare, and Rick tells himself to not screw up again or lest he kill himself. It's a tour de force comic scene, right up there with his Lemmon related Quaaludes, and one wonders if screwball comedy is perhaps DiCaprio's true calling.
In addition to all this though we also get a lot of fun from DiCaprio in his portrayal of Rick Dalton's various performances. These sometimes are bit brief, but all enjoyable in their brevity. This with the Clint Eastwood squint with an unimpressed delivery as the lead of Bounty Law (where I want to know how things turned out with Michael Madsen the corrupt sheriff), the eager World War 2 eye patched hero with a raving mania as he kills "those Nazi Bastards" when serving some fried sauerkraut, his menacing glare a ruthless man wanted by the F.B.I as one Michael Murtaugh or just some enjoyable wacky dancing for one Hullabaloo. Man.. if DiCaprio wasn't stuck being one of the last legitimate movie stars, he would've made one fine TV guest spotter, alas the road not taken. The crown jewel of these scenes though is as we see his extended work as the villain on the pilot of Lancer. DiCaprio is a delight twice over. This first in portraying the villainous part with such delectable glee. This bringing as much slime and ooze in every single line that he lingers on as if each were one juicy piece of meat he was trying to savor for all they are worth. His eye glances being that of only the purest contemptible fiend, well that is unless he forgets a line and we have DiCaprio do an instant desperate breakdown that is absolutely hilarious. His extreme frustration is just wonderfully puerile once again. This though is fixed, thanks to the aforementioned trailer scene, and DiCaprio comes in an even greater glory. This in his sweaty, "sexy evil Hamlet", physical manner of a depraved prince just loving every bit of evil he can extol on those around him. Rick is loving it, DiCaprio seems to be loving it, and I'm loving it. The capper though being DiCaprio's strict sincerity in his portrayal of a finally positive emotional breakdown. This one that carries that same entertaining vulnerability, though now in heart filled cheer at hearing he's committed the best acting ever, well at least according to a little girl. This is a great performance by Leonardo DiCaprio, as he has the right type of fun with the role, that does wholly realize Rick Dalton as a person, while also just being a wildly entertaining portrayal of a broken vanity. While I do have reservations still with the film overall, the scenes that really hone in on Rick are comic gems, and DiCaprio is the most essential facet of this in a turn that is such a proper combination of his star presence and great comedic ability.