Money, Money, Money
Everyone talks about the ‘excess of the eighties’ and the drug-addled antics of powerful, money-hungry yuppies (see pretty much everything written by Bret Easton Ellis) but up until recently, audiences wouldn’t have been desensitised enough to actually see that kind of stuff on film. Point in case, if I pitched a film ten years ago which introduces the lead character blowing cocaine through a hollow biro tube into a hooker’s arsehole, I would be hauled out of the office. But with names like Scorsese, DiCaprio and Winter, who would dare oppose it? During a lunch meeting with his first boss, Jordan Belfort [DiCaprio] is told that in order to survive life as a stock broker on Wall Street, he must adopt the lifestyle. Sex, drugs, alcohol, masturbating, manipulation and most importantly, a clear conscience. Taking this to heart, Jordan starts his own company and builds his way from selling penny stocks to poor chumps to selling worthless stocks to the richest one percent of the population. In almost no time, Belfort creates an empire worth millions of dollars in practically non-existent funds. Of course, this attracts the attention of the FBI and before long Belfort’s success and extremely extravagant lifestyle is meticulously studied under a microscope.
This isn’t a documentary or a perfectly faithful rendition of Belfort’s life, it’s Terence Winter’s interpretation of it. Winter is like the Mamet for this generation, combining foul language, nudity, violence and shock value to produce a very interesting character study. Then we have Martin Scorsese, a true legend in his own right; if you look back at the diversity and success of his last few projects, his status of iconic filmmaker is more than apparent. And unlike greats such as De Palma, Coppola, Spielberg etc, Scorsese seems to be going from strength-to-strength. Having said that, the man has his flaws; always has, always will. Especially when it comes to editing. Favouring specific shots and deliveries over actual continuity, actors will literally leap around the set from shot-to-shot. A good example would be during one of the many sex scenes which clearly shows DiCaprio naked from the waist down, only to be completely clothed in the very next shot. It’s breathtakingly brazen and if anyone else were guilty of it, you’d shout amateur at the top of your lungs. But with the stories and performances this strong, nobody seems to notice or care. There’s also the running time of the average Winter/Scorsese film, which, summed up in a word or two, is pretty epic. Three hours isn’t exactly Gone With The Wind but because of the pacing, energetic flamboyance, ridiculous scenarios and continually maintained highs, you feel absolutely every minute of the running time. This movie is a fucking marathon for the senses.
Frustratingly, a story which sets out to satirise and analyse how greedy douchebags took advantage of the rich and the dumb, actually ends up glamorising them just a little too much. Through the dealings of brokers and bankers, the global economy shat all over itself and rather than hating and pitying these bastards, we find ourselves sold on their bullshit (again), muttering “Wow, he got away with it in the end, I wish I was like that guy. He had it all.” But this is the problem with a really good performance in the hands of a really good production team. You end up taking a controversial subject or individual and warping them into something interesting, or worse, appealing. One of the causes of this could be that the comedy elements outweigh the dramatic. Ultimately, that’s not a bad thing, if you present it too seriously you end up with Wall Street or Margin Call and audiences feel like they’re being lectured about something they don’t understand and had no part in but know they should feel shitty about it.. like a child at a funeral. What this film lacked was the other side of the fence. We witness and explore the entrepreneurs running the show but there’s no face of the common man because much like Goodfellas, the common man trying to make an honest living is a schmuck. Technically, this makes the film weaker but I’ll go into further detail about perception of events in my highlighted scene.
I love DiCaprio. I think the man is one of the finest living actors and every year he’s overlooked by various award bodies because of his Titanic/Romeo mainstream origins and it thoroughly pisses me off. So each year he seems to up his game in terms of acting quantity. Each performance is more elaborate, more over the top and every single one is exceptional. But he’s going to reach a point of explosion soon. There are only so many places you can go. From paranoid detective, to dream thief, to cross-dressing law enforcer, to racist slave-owner, to 20’s bootlegger socialite leading us finally to the most over-the-top performance of the year. In the hands of a lesser actor, this would be a three hour shitfest but DiCaprio makes it not only watchable but overwhelmingly compelling. But I really miss the subtle performances, one without tonnes of screaming and punching and midget hurling and boat sinking, so give him his damned Oscar so we can get him back into more interesting subdued roles. Jonah Hill always surprises me. From Knocked Up onward, I’ve enjoyed his comedic style but watching him in more dramatic fare is even more rewarding. Here he plays Belfort’s second-in-command, Donnie Azoff, an eccentric individual with the same pursuits, ambition and goals as Belfort but less of the intelligence and restraint. Jordan’s second wife, Naomi Lapaglia, is played by Margot Robbie. Now, I’ll openly admit, I made an immediate judgement about the 23 year old Australian actress and assumed she was simply there to look pretty and act awfully – like a Michael Bay leading lady. This was a really stupid mistake. Robbie plays her role amazingly well – it’s not exactly layered and her obliviousness to Belfort’s actions makes her appear stupid but I find her just as interesting as any of the leading females in Winter’s other works. The supporting cast are equally impressive (part of being a talented director, you attract an extremely talented cast), giving varied and hilarious renditions of stock broker caricatures.
Cinema is a very subjective creature. Each release should be graded on its own merit but also when held in contrast to films of a similar nature. For example, if I award a good action film nine out of ten, then a good drama nine out of ten, the two should not be drawn into comparison based on their score. I only mention this as the biggest complaint from the public seems to be that this film is bad because they don’t like the themes the movie explores. Which is like saying Schindler’s List is a bad movie because it made you feel sad. For all its revelry in debauchery and excess, The Wolf Of Wall Street is a finely crafted movie with a glorious set of lead performances and an outrageous narrative; an intensely clever comedy that depicts the individuals we put in charge of our money as potential Jackass hosts who have never experienced real consequence or punishment.
17th January 2014
The Scene To Look Out For:
After a long bout of sobriety, Belfort finally snaps when learning that his wife wants a divorce and will fight for custody of her children. Of the many dramatic scenes in this movie, this one stands out as the most serious. Watching Belfort with a candle up his arse, crashing a yacht or dragging his almost paralytic body down a flight of brick stairs is amusing but when he starts gut-punching his wife, stabbing drug-filled furniture and driving a car (containing his young daughter in the front seat) into a brick wall, you start to get a glimpse into the reality of his actions. The entire movie is dedicated to how Belfort perceives both the world and himself in it but this one standout moment really highlights the kind of character he actually is to the sober populace.
Rob Reiner hasn’t really featured in a film for maybe a decade. And in someone’s absence, you forget how good they are. Chevy Chase, Alec Baldwin, Robin Williams; a few years of no-shows or duds and you write them off, only to return in full-form. Reiner is very entertaining as Jordan’s foul mouth, short temper and rather unscrupulous father and while he only has a few scenes, each is surprisingly engrossing – his introduction while watching an episode of The Equaliser is particularly amusing.
“Well, basically, you know, if the kid was retarded I would drive it up to the country and just like, you know, open the door and say you’re free now. You know? Like run free, you know? …I’m just fucking with you, man”
In A Few Words:
“A very bold portrayal of the levels humanity will sink to when presented with opportunity, success, money and power”