Sunday, 12 January 2014

Film review: The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenplay:Terence Winter
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal and Matthew McConaughey

Martin Scorsese opens The Wolf of Wall Street with a succession of quick scenes which tell us exactly what is in store for the us over the next three hours; Fast cars, massive houses, private boats, beautiful and disposable women, and drugs. Lots and lots of drugs.

Not even three minutes in and we see our narrator and lead douchebag Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) sucking cocaine out of a hooker’s anus. Why? Because he can afford to and he has nothing better to do with his time and money and this is a motif we’ll see repeated throughout the film. When you’re earning nearly a million dollars a week (and it annoys you that it’s not exactly a million dollars a week) everybody, it seems, wants what you’ve got and The Wolf of Wall Street pitches the debauchery and outrageous lifestyle of Belfort and company as a black comedy because anything else would be unwatchable.

Narrative issues aside, the film is first and foremost genuinely hilarious throughout because we’re never supposed to like the people involved. The excess is so gross that you can only laugh at it and the thought process of these men is so unlike (I’d hope) the majority of people watching the film that you can’t help but get onboard with their outrageous adventures in high finance and low morals. We watch on, knowing that all this money was made from selling crappy stocks to people who would never benefit, or from illegally selling stocks in companies he had a large stake in, we don’t get angry because the film doesn’t glorify the actions or make heroes out of the men.

Moreover, the film neither condemns their behaviour nor shows us that greed doesn’t have its consequences. When Belfort is sentence to jail, the film doesn’t show him behind bars or living a hard life, but we only see him on a tennis court because, as although he admits to be scared as he arrived at prison he tells us “I needn’t have been, because for a brief, fleeting moment I forgot I was rich, and I lived in a place where everything is for sale.” The place he refers to is not the prison, but America and money is still what everyone wants, regardless where it came from. The final shot is perhaps the most telling and important of all; Scorsese shows us the faces of dozens of men and women looking on at Belfort, hanging on his every word because he has become a legend of sorts, and they all want to emulate his success.

Where the film suffers lies in Belfort himself. When he’s not doing drugs and throwing money around Belfort is fairly uninteresting and domestic disputes with his wife do not have the dramatic impact the film needs because we never care, or even want to know, about his family life. The FBI investigation also serves to weigh the film down because the FBI investigator doesn’t get enough screen time to make his role impactful and we are not rooting for Belfort to get away with his crimes nor are we desperate for him to be caught and brought to justice. The depravity is fun to watch and makes up the majority of the film, but the necessity to tell the other aspects of Belfort’s life, although always well directed and in keeping with the quality of the rest of the film, keeps the film from true greatness. In part it’s like nothing we’ve seen in a major $100 million budget Hollywood film before, but the film is also undeniably formulaic, too.

Like Belfort, Scorsese’s film never stops for a minute and is highly energetic from beginning to end, always with something interesting to look at on screen whether that be lavish parties, midget throwing, the effects of Quaaludes, the schedule of drug taking to ‘survive’ a trip from America to Switzerland, taping money to people to smuggle across borders, nearly dying at sea... the film can never be accused of being dull and yet again Scorsese’s long term film editor Thelma Schoonmaker has a vital role in this.

Credit must also go to DiCaprio and Jonah Hill (an actor I usually cannot stand but really enjoyed here) for matching Scorsese’s direction with equally energetic and dynamic performances. Unashamedly, DiCaprio puts everything into this role, never letting his A-List status hold him back from fully embodying Belfort and the greed culture, whilst giving one of 2013’s funniest and liveliest performances.

Stop thinking for yourself verdict: In the filmography of Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street is, for me, relatively low on the list which is a testament to his outstanding career considering this is a thoroughly entertaining film. It might not be classic Scorsese, but it’s damn good fun nonetheless.

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