The Wolf of Wall Street
2013, 179mins, 18
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer: Terence Winter
Cast includes: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler
UK Release Date: 17th January 2013
Martin Scorsese is no stranger to the debauched annals of humanity, having essayed them across nearly four decades of sterling produce. However the director rarely treats his findings with anything but utmost seriousness – leaving his work on the black but openly comedic “The Wolf of Wall Street” all the more distinctive. Liberally adapted from the memoirs of megalomaniacal shyster Jordan Belfort; “The Wolf of Wall Street” is an exhausting but impeccably structured odyssey of sin and moral degradation – charting the man’s meteoric rise and shameful fall with satirical purpose and unapologetic vulgarity. During production of the feature Scorsese celebrated his 70th birthday; but with its MPAA-challenging penchant for violence, substance abuse and gratuitous sex, “The Wolf of Wall Street” could be passed off as the frenzied discharge of a much younger mind. What’s unmistakably “Scorsese” about the whole affair is the intelligent craftsmanship and virtuoso casting – talents not easily replicated outside of Hollywood’s most revered inner-circle.
After struggling to make his mark on Wall Street during the late 80s, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) seeks to satisfy his expansive monetary ambition by setting up his own Brokerage, Stratton Oakmont. Aided by Donny (Jonah Hill), Jordan revolutionises Wall-Street through unethical models of practise, making he and his employees very rich. Unburdened by monogamy or morality, Jordan binges on sex, drugs and delusion, a cocktail that soon sets the FBI on his trail, determined to expose his repugnant disregard for the law. However Jordan is convinced that dollar equals power, and refuses to willingly accept such a defeatist fate.
“Wolf” marks the fifth collaboration between Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio, and in regard to the actor’s work the results have never been so exciting or physically astute. Scorsese’s film makes a point of perching on the fence, observing the greed and excess with undiluted detail, leaving the passing of judgement to the audience. DiCaprio’s committed and charismatic turn makes that responsibility tougher to process, channelling Belfort’s tastelessness through an inherently likable prism. The performer takes on a plethora of responsibilities, effectively convincing as a man capable of charming his way into a nun’s panties – all the while kinetically indulging in an unstoppable array of dust snortin’, ass-smackin’ overkill. “Wolf” doesn't overtly call for a lot of hefty dramatic lifting, but the actor brings incredible nuance to a bevy of scenes – manipulating employees with rousing speeches and disavowing familial loyalty in pursuit of wealth. He’s a hateful screen creation – but DiCaprio has enough swag to render Belfort a magnetic presence. It’s just one example of the deliberately awkward questions the movie imposes upon its audience.
The supporting players connect exceptionally with the pantomime requirements of Scorsese’s vision, rattling around the central storyline with versatile recklessness. Jonah Hill continues to make a fine case for his future as a respected thespian – slipping comfortably beneath a rubbery exterior to bring Belfort’s deranged right-hand man vividly to life. He’s even more deplorable than Di Caprio –but Hill’s game work ensures he’s no less watchable. Women don’t have much of a part to play in this topsy-turvy universe, although the gorgeous Margot Robbie leaves a slinky impression as Belfort’s trophy wife. The most accomplished contribution must go to Matthew McConaughey, who as Belfort’s mentor supplies as much life and meaning to the film in fifteen minutes as anybody else does in 179. His startling monologue primes “Wolf” thematically, realising a profession dominated by gross abundance, in which a morning wank supersedes the decimation of a client’s financial future. It’s a strong piece of writing, but McConaughey delivers it with the perfect amount of flippancy and smarm. It’s a concise embodiment of everything the greater whole seeks to achieve.
The movie is draining to behold. It lasts three hours yet never tires, viciously clubbing its audience repeatedly with a mobile mise en scene and thudding soundtrack. It’s reminiscent of Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” – using its frantic and bulging design to highlight the extent of Belfort’s hedonism. Scorsese never makes an exertive move to condemn the crimes enacted, but he does recreate them in stunningly inappropriate detail, the highlights including outrageous office celebrations and moments of heart-breaking neglect – Belfort dooming friends and kin alike due to his thirst for dominance. It must also be noted that Luhrmann’s “Gatsby” did not feature Nick Caraway publically masturbating on a Quaalude high – such is the delirious extent to which the film-maker stretches this deranged adaptation.
It’s miscreants like Belfort who are responsible for the crash of 2008, which I suppose provides “Wolf” with a superficial degree of topicality. However, I strongly suspect the film will mean more to future generations as a window into the 21st century perversion of the American Dream, detailing a set of individuals who make Gordon Gekko seem like Mother Teresa. It’s a broad and testing cinematic experience, but it boasts a dark knowingness and foul authenticity that consolidate it as a piece of genuine import. I expect audiences (like me) will sit back and absorb this triumphant work willingly – but what does that say about us? How are we better than the selfish consumers at the movie’s core? With his final shot depicting the disheveled public whom Belfort extorts, I’m confident they’re the riddles Scorsese wants answered.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013