Comedy / Drama / Films

The Wolf of Wall Street

2013 was the year of excess – the year Hollywood was drawn to decadence, impossible wealth and suspect morals. First there was Korine’s surreal and artistic Spring Breakers, then, Sofia Coppola’s vapid, but comically chilling The Bling Ring, and finally Baz Luhrmann’s misguided and overblown on the Great American Novel, The Great Gatsby. The final movie fitting the pattern, then, is perhaps the most excessive of them all – Martin Scorsese’s much-anticipated The Wolf of Wall Street, a three-hour long black comedy epic based on notorious businessman/criminal Jordan Belfort, in which Scorsese reunites with modern day muse Leonardo DiCaprio. The Wolf of Wall Street is an impressive, dizzying movie and has been nominated for numerous awards, including Best Picture. It’s the kind of bold, ambitious and insane project which needs to be seen in the cinema.the wolf of wall streetDiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort, a man we’re told from the start, is all about the girls, drugs, and of course, the money. We begin back in 1987, when a 24-year old Belfort takes a job on Wall Street, under the tutelage of boss Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), who advises Belfort on the benefits of masturbation, Martinis, and cocaine. Sadly, before Belfort can get into the swing of things, Black Monday shuts Hanna’s firm down, and after following advice from his wife Teresa (Cristin Milioti), Belfort takes a new position at a Long Island ‘boiler room’ business which deals in penny stock. A few unscrupulous tactics later, Belfort is making a fortune, which draws the attention of Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) – the two starting a business together, Stratton Oakmont, which becomes extremely successful indeed. Years later, whilst with new wife Naomi Lapaglia (Margot Robbie), Belfort and his business summon the eye of the FBI, in the form of agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler), who seeks to bring Belfort down.the wolf of wall streetCritics have drawn comparisons between The Wolf of Wall Street and Scorsese’s 1990 classic, Goodfellas, and these comparisons are fair; in terms of structure, Scorsese does repeat himself here, as Wolf shares Goodfellas‘ rise-and-fall and patterns of heavy drug abuse. At times, Wolf feels like a love-letter from Scorsese to himself – all of his usual stylistic tropes are here, as well as the focus on corruption (Taxi Driver, Casino, The Departed, The Aviator) and the this movie-is-not-safe-for-your-children style content (over 500 ‘fucks’, the most ever for a drama, and a whole lot of naked strippers and coke), but Scorsese goes further with this film than before, and The Wolf of Wall Street stands as one of his most ludicrous and exciting movies. It’s hard to imagine that this movie came from a director in his 70s – Wolf has so much energy, is so vibrant and loud and so demanding of the audience’s attention, that even with the usual Scorsese tropes, this feels like the work of a new and interesting fresh face in cinema. This is an explosion of a feature, and there’s nothing in the way of subtly here – Wolf is worlds away from the mellow and saccharine land of Hugo, and all the better for it.wolf4The Wolf of Wall Street is a hugely funny movie – Scorsese isn’t generally thought of as a funny director, but Wolf is in fact, a far better comedy than most actual comedies of the last year, and considering the movie’s length (3 hours or so) the film never drags and flies through its runtime. We’re presented with numerous set-pieces, most of which are comedy gold, and an onslaught of Bacchanalian sequences of hard drug abuse and sex. The sheer quantity of these sequences serves to desensitise the viewer to them, which aligns us with Belfort and his world. The movie is sexist and offensive, but so is Belfort, and it’s his movie.  the wolf of wall streetThe film is a technical marvel, especially when considering that it was shot digitally. Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto works wonders and the colour pops in this movie; everything is bright and vibrant and crisp throughout. Crucially, everything in this movie, from the sets to the locations, costumes, lighting and colours – looks expensive, which fits perfectly with the decadent tone. The effect is similar to what Baz Luhrmann went for in The Great Gatsby, but Scorsese, being a far more accomplished director, manages to actually pull it off. Numerous technical treats stand out too – Scorsese is known for blending the rules of visual narrative and whilst he never pushes the boundaries here like he did in say, Taxi Driver, he does add a lot of asides and clever ticks – cars which change colour on the narrator’s insistence, moments of Belfort breaking the fourth-wall, anachronistic music use and a self-aware winking when it comes to stockbroker tech-speak. This is all backed up by Terence Winter’s excellent screenplay, which is witty and sharp. The scene on Belfort’s boat, in which DiCaprio and Kyle Chandler do a Crime and Punishment style verbal dance around one another, is one of the strongest scenes of the year and absolutely brilliant in double-tone as each party tries to feel out the other. the wolf of wall streetDiCaprio has been on a roll the last few years, with outstanding turns in Inception, Django Unchained and Shutter Island. He’s become something of Scorsese’s muse, replacing the now-sadly doughy De Niro sometime in the early 2000s, and the two work very well together. This is DiCaprio’s best role – a materialistic, chauvinistic and capitalist anti-hero; he’s a horrible character, but its hard not to get invested with him; DiCaprio is so mesmerizing, over the top and almost insane, showing off a rarely seen comedic side and at times, a Charlie Chaplin-esque use of slapstick. The drugged out crawl to the car is one of the funniest cinematic moments in recent memory and based entirely on DiCaprio going physical, whilst the numerous arguments with wife Margot Robbie – who herself sizzles in a suitably trashy, drawl-heavy performance – are hilarious, all up and down, childish and loud. Belfort is a barely human character, but DiCaprio keeps us on board with immense screen presence. Whilst it’s unlikely he’ll win the Oscar for this (the competition for Best Actor this year is insane; he’d be a shoe-in any other year) it’ll go down in his filmography as a career highlight, and only adds to DiCaprio’s growing reputation as one of Hollywood’s finest leading men.the wolf of wall streetEveryone else in the cast is impeccable, with wonderful comic timing. Matthew McConaughey gets a brief but importance cameo which influences Belfort’s character, and as such, the rest of the movie. It’s through McConaughey that we’re introduced to the need for release, and Belfort’s semi-pagan jungle chant, a hymn for the Wall Street Church. There are great turns from Rob Reiner, Kyle Chandler, Joanna Lumley, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, P.J Byrne and Jean Dujardin, but highlight here is Jonah Hill, who is clearly taking advantage of his post-Moneyball praise to take on meatier roles. His natural knack for comedy comes through and he’s genius as Donnie, stealing a lot of scenes. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he walks away with Best Supporting Actor for this.wolf3Criticism of The Wolf of Wall Street centres on its excess, immorality and lack of redemption. It can be a difficult movie to read; Belfort is an unpleasant character, but as Kubrick did in A Clockwork Orange, Scorsese aligns us with the villainous lead, and makes us invest in his plight. We laugh with him and revel in excessive, endless party sequences with him; Belfort speaks directly to the audience and we become accomplices, almost wanting him to get off the hook for his actions. This is partly why the film is difficult to get a grasp on, as it makes the audience enjoy themselves, and then feel guilty afterwards for doing so. Though there is a jarring sequence featuring domestic violence and child-snatching which hints at a low-point, we’re never really offered anything redemptive with Belfort and the movie does glorify him and his awful actions without ever suggesting he truly changes. But then, the story is told from Belfort’s POV, and based on the real-life Belfort’s memoirs. We don’t see the devastating results of Belfort’s crimes because he doesn’t care about them. We don’t see his clients because he doesn’t care about them either. We seem him as a semi-hero because that’s how he sees himself. This also, explains the movies misogyny; the women involved are all hookers, whores and idiots because that’s how Belfort sees women. Scorsese throws himself into Belfort’s world of insane excess and a sensible look at the reality wouldn’t fit with the tone; it’s really down to the audience how far they’ll let themselves go with this. In terms of satire, the film sits alongside The Bling Ring and Spring Breakers, in presenting a view of Western society going very wrong. wolf1This is a brilliantly funny and very well made, ambitious and crazy affair. It’s not Scorsese’s best movie, but it is one of his funniest, and hugely enjoyable to watch. Your reaction to The Wolf of Wall Street will largely depend on your reaction to Belfort – if you can become part of his world, it’s a wonderful, if guilt-inducing, look in decadence, greed and nonsensical spending. It’s a big and bold and bright movie, and one which should be seen in the cinema.

9/10

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4 thoughts on “The Wolf of Wall Street

  1. Great review of a great film. By the way, while I mostly agree with this – “We don’t see his clients because he doesn’t care about them either.” – the final shot of the film is pretty important, I think, in that it provides the first glimpse of the everyday people Belfort effects. Another crowd of suckers.

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