WGTC Weekly Throwdown: What Other Literary Characters Would We Love To See Leonardo DiCaprio Play?

Rob – Yossarian (Catch-22)


I’m no big Leonardo DiCaprio fan, let me be very clear on that. I just can’t get past his weird man/child face. That said, he does turn in a fantastic performance now and then – his J. Edgar Hoover was stunning, and his oily, evil performance as Calvin Candie in Django Unchained was Leo at his unhinged best. The problem is that to me, he’ll always be Jack in, sigh, Titanic. There’s nothing he can do to take away from that. That said, I don’t think of Kate Winslet as being Rose in, sigh, Titanic. Maybe I’m showing up my own misandrous tendencies towards famous movie stars, but I’m being honest. As I always say, “honesty is the best policy”.

I think that Leonardo DiCaprio would have a decent go at playing Yossarian, from Catch-22. For the uninitiated: Catch-22, written by Joseph Heller, is a novel set during World War II. Yossarian is a soldier who constantly keeps coming across examples of Catch-22, a logically circular and usually paradoxical argument that always protects or works for those in authority. The best example is the argument against fighter pilots refusing to fly their bombers by claiming insanity – “Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.” Anyone who wants to quit is sane, and nobody crazy wants to quit. The entire novel comes to centre on ever more elaborate versions of the Catch-22, and is where the popular idea of the “catch-22”, a lose/lose situation, gets its name from.

Now that we’re all aquainted, let’s get to it. There’s a few previous films I have in mind as provenance of the abilities Leo would need for a film version (I’m discounting the Mike Nichols 1970 adaptation, for reasons). Firstly, he’d need that ability to portray an innocent man lost in a Kafkaesque bureaucratic nightmare that he shown himself so capable of in Shutter Island. I know it’s not quite the same situation, but that feeling of powerlessness, of being stuck in the middle of something beyond your control, is what those two stories have in common.

He proved himself adept at deadpan humour with the performance he gave in Django Unchained, but also with his appearance in Catch Me If You Can. Throughout Catch-22, Yossarian is constantly at odds with authority, and Leo was so great in the latter film that I really think he could draw on that to pull off such an important side of the character.

Finally, we need emotional gravitas from Leo. We come to care about Yossarian by the end of the novel, and we really want him to succeed, even though he’s not always the nicest guy. Could Leonardo DiCaprio get the audience on his side in that way? I think so. His performance in Gangs of New York, as the reluctant gang leader Amsterdam Vallon, demonstrates that he can keep the viewer on side through his own despicable acts. Even though Yossarian doesn’t come close to doing what Amsterdam Vallon does, it shows that as an actor he is capable of that kind of duality. Also, sigh, Titanic. He was probably the most convincing character in, sigh, Titanic, even though I still contend that Cal Hockley, Billy Zane’s character, is the true hero of that film. I acknowledge that has absolutely nothing to do with Leonardo DiCaprio portraying Yossarian in a film adaptation of Catch-22, but it is the sentiment that I choose to end with.