CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, Jean Dujardin, Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau, Jon Bernthal, Cristin Milioti, Joanna Lumley, Spike Jonze
RUNNING TIME: 179 mins
BASICALLY…: Young stockbroker Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) runs a firm that engages in securities fraud and corruption on Wall Street, lending Belfort the chance to live an increasingly hedonistic lifestyle…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
Someone very recently made an interesting point about how, in this day and age, the biggest villains in cinema are not alien invaders, not rogue secret agents, not even terrorist cells. They’re bankers, stockbrokers, anyone who seems to work in the financial districts of Wall Street or Canary Wharf. It’s become a movie cliché that the bad guys are doing it only for the money, but in the heat of recession and inflation it’s also become a stark piece of the truth. We are living in a world where Gordon Gekko’s classic mantra of “greed is good” reads like how Marxism was probably greeted by impoverished countries in the early 20th century, and if Gekko was Lenin preaching a new order of life then Jordan Belfort – the titular Wolf of Wall Street – is the Stalin figure who screws it all up.
Martin Scorsese’s fifth collaboration with star Leonardo DiCaprio is one that investigates what happens when Gekko’s words are put into extreme practise as Stalin did all those years ago. As you might expect, it’s a way of life that gets out of control much quicker than anticipated, and it’s all down to the guy who enforced it in the first place. More than half of the movie is made up of drug-fuelled antics by Belfort (DiCaprio) and associate/best friend Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), many of which involves prostitutes, all-night partying and even more drugs culminating in an outstanding later Quaaludes sequence. They do all of this because they can, or at least they can afford to do it off of the money snatched from naïve customers’ pockets. If ever there was such a fairy tale to scare children from the dangers of financiers, this would be it.
In that sense, The Wolf of Wall Street – based on the memoirs of the real-life Belfort – is almost like taking an uncomfortable trip through someone’s warped psyche, in this case Belfort’s. Had he not been influenced by Matthew McConaughey’s scene-stealing, high-as-a-kite first boss at the start, he could have been a decent law-abiding stockbroker – a rare breed, even now – but instead virtually sold his soul to the devil in exchange for hookers and drugs, sometimes both (as evidenced in a very early cutaway wherein Belfort sucks cocaine from a hooker’s… well, you get the idea). No wonder audiences in the US are so split about this film; it’s a cautionary tale of the most effective kind.
But it’s also a required taste. If you’re down for three hours of sex and drugs and not-quite rock-n-roll then you’ll get through this movie just fine. If not, then steer well clear of this because it is a riotous parade of it all from the word “go”. It’s entirely your choice, and if you still want to find out more about this film then by all means read on, otherwise click away.
Still with us? Okay, so while the initial running time stretches the movie quite a bit with a few scenes perhaps best left on the cutting room floor – a scrap with a thieving butler probably could have been removed with nothing lost from it – it does allow for plenty of time for its players to give their most dedicated performances in their long or short careers. It goes without saying that this is DiCaprio’s movie all the way through, probably a career-best in some circumstances. His is a character so repugnant and vile and all-round loathsome he reminds one of Scorsese’s previous anti-heroes such as Travis Bickle or Jake La Motta but amplified to the highest degree. La Motta may have been an abusive boxer with the temper of a castrated rhinoceros, but even he never stole the hard-earned money of struggling civilians and spent it on whores and cocaine. Like De Niro before him, DiCaprio continues to test the audience’s patience in a Scorsese movie but it is his outlandish and unforgettable performance that draws you in even when by all accounts we absolutely despise him. You get the feeling that DiCaprio’s Belfort and James McAvoy’s Bruce Robertson from Filth would get on like a crack-house on fire.
It’s a funny world we live in where Jonah Hill has more Oscar nominations for his acting than Robert Redford does for his, but his sheer commitment to his role here somehow justifies that. Getting a great chunk of the film’s many laughs, Hill completely sells his character’s ugly nature both inside and out whether it’s through his distractingly white dentures or eating a poor young stockbroker’s live goldfish or even openly masturbating at a crowded house party. It’s not unwarranted to think he may just be a cheap replacement for Joe Pesci in some parts, after all both can be extremely funny and intimidating when the script calls for it, but Hill is coming into his own with a role that best showcases what he can do with respectable material.
Special mention must too go to Margot Robbie, in a spousal role that Scorsese fans would compare to Sharon Stone in Casino or Cathy Moriarty in Raging Bull. Though initially a sex object with full-frontal nudity thrown in for good measure, her Naomi comes more into play in the second half of the film with her own methods of reenergising power over the dominant Belfort. The Australian actress, whose Brooklyn accent here is completely flawless, holds her own even against heavyweights like DiCaprio and it truly is a shame her performance hasn’t been as recognised by guilds this awards season as DiCaprio’s or Hill’s have because her screen presence couple with the material she has been given is just as impressive if not more so due to her relative newcomer status, and remains an extremely underrated performance.
Cameos galore come in all shapes and sizes, from Rob Reiner’s hilarious father/”Gestapo” figure to Jean Dujardin’s slimy Swiss banker. Some are kind of unnecessary – Joanna Lumley’s role, though memorable, could have honestly been played by anyone, and Jon Favreau is completely pointless – but the ones that do work do so in the shadow of the film’s three astounding leads.
More or less Scorsese’s first true all-out comedy since 1983’s The King of Comedy, it is still a complete surprise when the director’s name appears during the end credits because it doesn’t really feel like a Scorsese movie. Of course, there are familiar elements such as Thelma Schoonmaker’s trademark quick editing, but its tone and delivery will baffle any newfound appreciators of his work especially after films like The Departed or Hugo. In a sense, that works in the director’s favour because if it were more obvious he was repeating himself then it would look tacky and recyclable. Even at 71, Martin Scorsese can still find new ways of shocking audiences both old and new.
But as ever, we must come to the ultimate question: is The Wolf of Wall Street any good? Well, again it’s a required taste: there are those who’ll love it and there are those who’ll hate it. We personally liked it, but also acknowledge that it’s absolutely not for everyone. It is, after all, the only film you’ll see which has a candle sticking out of Leonardo DiCaprio’s posterior. Any film that has THAT in it is sure to divide audience opinion of whether this craziness is for them or not.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Though its three-hour running time makes itself known more often than not, The Wolf of Wall Street is a fascinating exploration of the greed of American financiers coupled with confident direction and sublime performances – including Leonardo DiCaprio’s astonishing career-high – that makes it a divisive, but no less provocative, movie experience.