This collaboration will probably be less fun than ‘Catch Me If You Can.’
What is it about Hollywood reunions that seem so alluring? The slightest hint that an established actor-director duo is working together again can be enough to pique our interest. Of course, the partnership itself could make or break our attention span. However, since this latest one evidently involves both Steven Spielberg and Leonardo DiCaprio, we’re primed to listen.
Deadline has announced that Spielberg and DiCaprio are in early discussions to work together on a biopic based on the life of soldier turned US president Ulysses S. Grant. The film will be adapted by David James Kelly (who wrote the upcoming version of Robin Hood) based on Ron Chernow’s bestselling biography titled “Grant.” The project was acquired last year by Lionsgate and DiCaprio’s own production company, Appian Way Productions.
This wouldn’t be the first time that Grant has been portrayed on film. Spielberg himself depicted the historical figure, portrayed by Jared Harris, in his own Abraham Lincoln movie six years ago. However, seeing as many of the representations of Grant have been notably one-note, this new biopic has the capacity to tread new ground.
As a soldier and eventual politician, Grant was complicated, to say the least. He suffered from a string of failed businesses and left the army after being accused of drunken behavior. Yet despite being down on his luck, Grant rose to become Abraham Lincoln’s most trusted general in the Civil War, securing several battlefield victories including the Battle of Shiloh. He was also notably set on taking down the Ku Klux Klan, championing rights for black Americans. Grant became the 18th President of the United States, although life still wasn’t all smooth sailing. He was left destitute towards the end of his life but was able to provide for his family by penning memoirs.
Should talks between Spielberg and DiCaprio come to fruition, Grant would mark their second collaboration since Catch Me If You Can. Deadline’s report hints that Spielberg hopes to direct DiCaprio in the starring role, although nothing is set in stone for the time being.
At this point, it probably should not faze anyone if Spielberg circles this project only to end up giving it to someone else to direct down the road. I’m also mildly concerned about the fact that Spielberg and DiCaprio are apparently choosing such a serious biopic as their next joint venture. This has little to do with the actual historical figure himself, because Grant obviously led a very eventful life. There is little doubt that DiCaprio would once again be able to dive head first into the character, fully embodying Grant the way he transformed into Hugh Glass for his Oscar-winning performance in The Revenant.
Yet, when it comes to strictly dramatic work, DiCaprio has tended to oversell his capabilities as an actor in recent years. He simply tries too hard in The Revenant and it’s obvious, which dampens his performance despite its caliber. The same can be said for DiCaprio’s work on Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar and arguably Martin Scorsese’s Howard Hughes biopic, The Aviator.
Spielberg isn’t left off the hook here either, because his own serious historical dramas can be hit or miss too. Lincoln drudges on and feels bloated despite Daniel Day-Lewis’s powerhouse performance as the title character. Bridge of Spies fares a little better by virtue of its more engaging espionage premise, but it also mainly works due to the performances above anything else.
Still, Spielberg and DiCaprio do have the potential to make cinematic magic when they work together. Long before The Revenant, the internet often joked about getting Leo that Oscar, but in all honesty, Catch Me If You Can really was one of those that sadly got away. The beauty of the film lies in DiCaprio’s naturalism as he oozes the confidence of his character – a fictionalized version of real-life conman Frank Abagnale Jr. DiCaprio’s ability to balance Catch Me If You Can’s breezy tone and its emotional underpinnings tugs at the audience’s empathy in this cat-and-mouse chase. DiCaprio and co-star Tom Hanks are electric together, with the actors’ chemistry lighting up the screen.
Their collaboration remaining unconfirmed, we can only sit with the knowledge that Spielberg and DiCaprio can make a hit together, and so Grant still has a chance to turn out well. It just may not be as fun as their first team up, which is a darn shame.
The good news is that even if Grant doesn’t signal the return of this particular partnership, both director and actor have so many projects in the works. Spielberg has Indiana Jones 5 and West Side Story in development. Meanwhile, DiCaprio has lined up a new movie with Quentin Tarantino, both a Teddy Roosevelt biopic and a true-crime thriller with Martin Scorsese, and a Leonardo Da Vinci film. We couldn’t miss them if we wanted to.