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08th Dec 2021

Don’t Look Up review: Leo DiCaprio gives best performance in years in Netflix blockbuster that proves we’re all awful

Adam Bloodworth

Don't Look Up review: Leonardo DiCaprio

Warning: Mild spoilers for Don’t Look Up.

Leonardo DiCaprio is popping pills in Don’t Look Up and he gets to publicly undress a sexy lady – Cate Blanchett’s TV news anchor Brie.

So far, so Leo.

But wait, these pills aren’t quaaludes designed for having a good time like in The Wolf of Wall Street – and Leo’s character Dr Randall Mindy isn’t a natural ladies man like Leo is in so many of his movies and, let’s face it, real life as well. Here, Leo’s a stressed astronomer popping Xanax to help him control his panic attacks as he tries helplessly to save the planet from inevitable destruction.

The trouble with making films about climate change (which is essentially what Don’t Look Up is) is that there’s the feeling everyone is – sadly – bored stiff of hearing about how doomed we all are. Enter writer-director Adam McKay, whose new Netflix offering is a clever satire on climate change and how we deal with it – or more accurately, don’t.

Ingeniously, the film just about manages to disguise its subject matter well enough to get its message across, thanks to a brilliant A-list cast. They play a marvellously batshit set of characters who inject some serious sass into all the sad.

Dr Mindy and his academic colleague Dr. Kate Dibiasky, played by Jennifer Lawrence, discover that a 9-kilometre-wide comet is going to wipe out the planet. Naturally, they’re losing their shit. Eventually, after a hard slog, they convince everyone else to lose their shit too – except evil old Sir Peter Isherwell, played by Mark Rylance, who comes along and ruins all their earnest planning. Rather than thinking of ways to stop the impeding comet, he suggests ways the US government can make a few trillion of it instead. Americans, eh?

It must be an incredibly frustrating job to dedicate your life to convincing people with power that climate change is real. DiCaprio embodies all the angst, desperation and fear of a man who has tried everything – and yet still can’t get through to the corporate machine or convince it to switch its agenda for a brief moment for a good cause.

As he manages his panic attacks in news network bathrooms before going live in front of the entire nation and lets off  steam with an illicit affair with Cate Blanchett’s overly-confident Brie, McKay’s message seems to be that we should spend a moment thinking about the lives of the real people out there trying to save the world. On top of that unimaginably hefty task – they have ordinary, everyday challenges too.

Think you’ve seen DiCaprio in every guise? You ain’t seen nothing yet. Here he goes from earnest to angsty and ‘AILTF’ (‘Astrologist I’d like to fuck’) all in the space of 138 minutes. In real life, Leo is a big climate change campaigner, so sometimes we get the sense some of this frustration barely requires any flexing of his acting chops – and yet, DiCaprio also succeeds at making Dr. Mindy his most vulnerable character yet.

In one grotesque moment of power play, which epitomises how some see the climate catastrophe, Blanchett’s Brie asks Leo’s Dr. Mindy to insist “we’re all going to die” as they both writhe around in a weird sex game.

Blanchett and DiCaprio have incredible chemistry. And, dare we say it, we wouldn’t be surprised if DiCaprio had another Oscar nom heading his way. But there are other brilliant performances on offer here too.

Jonah Hill is deliciously watchable as Jason Orlean, the President’s son and – naturally – also the White House’s Chief of Staff. Dripping with privilege. he saunters in and out of Oval Office meetings wearing sharply cut suits – but he may as well be in his pyjamas. He shoots down requests for governmental support from the academics, which require weeks of preparation, with only the swish of his hand.

Hats off to Rylance as evil tech mogul billionaire Sir Peter Isherwell, too. He’s the sort of corporate overlord that’s so slimy yet somehow so convincing that you hate yourself for briefly buying into his bullshit.

Shots of polar bears and sea lions make their case – and as the comet hurtles for Earth, McKay’s otherwise buoyantly comic, comfy watch leads you to believe that surely there’s going to be a neat outcome for Dr. Mindy, his crew of passionate experts and the civilians they’re dying the save. But this isn’t The Wolf of Wall Street. Can DiCaprio prevail?

Don’t Look Up‘s message is that we can have a good time while we worry – but that doesn’t mean the worrying’s over just yet.

Don’t Look Up is released in selected UK cinemas on December 10 and on Netflix from Christmas Eve.

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