FILM REVIEW: The Wolf Of Wall Street
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey.
The Wolf of Wall Street, the new Martin Scorsese film, came into cinemas with an incredible amount of hype to live up to. Scorsese’s 23rd feature in almost 50 years and best (in my opinion) in more than 20 – is based on a memoir by the stockbroker Jordan Belfort, who founded the investment firm Stratton Oakmont in an abandoned Long Island garage, and spent much of the Nineties swindling his way to an enormous personal fortune. Although his success finally came to an end in 1998, when Belfort was indicted by the FBI for securities fraud and money-laundering.
Scorsese shows us this, but he’s mostly concerned with Belfort’s fast and cynical route to the top, and the sheer magnitude of girls and drugs he finds there. A typical week at Stratton Oakmont involves dwarf-tossing, naked marching bands, and a spectacle Belfort can only describe as a “stripper stampede”. With this being said, the film stands accused of glamourizing his crimes, ignoring his victims and failing to satisfy the audience’s need to see justice served. The simple truth is that The Wolf of Wall Street is guilty on all counts. But my conclusion is that this was intentional in every sense. We are made to feel jealous in some ways of the excess and freedom money brings, Scorsese wields it as a weapon. It hits the mark as we are left to wonder would we be so much different with all that wealth and success? This is the question we should ask ourselves and maybe we should not judge the actions of Belfort so harshly based on our own moral compass.
Crime thrillers don’t normally require much risk on the audience’s part: we invest pleasure in the bad guys’ schemes and scams, secure in the knowledge that in the end the bad guy gets his just desserts and that good will always triumph. The Wolf of Wall Street plays the market differently. It sells us the sleaze, and sells it hard, but it doesn’t pay out in the way we expect. In telling this archetypal American rise-and-fall story, Scorsese is casting back to the great Thirties gangster pictures, like Howard Hawk’s Scarface and William A Wellman’s The Public Enemy, about ambitious men who were impatient for power and wealth. (Both of those films, incidentally, provoked moral outcries in their time for broadly similar reasons.)
Scorsese includes a sensational scene that echoes the moment in The Public Enemy where Cagney vengefully pushes half a grapefruit into the face of his lover. Here, though, it is Belfort’s outraged trophy wife Naomi, played by Margot Robbie, who hurls a first, second, then third glass of water in her husband’s face, while he throws a spluttering tantrum. Her target, booming and flailing in the title role, is played by Leonardo DiCaprio, whose Oscar- and Bafta-nominated turn here is one of the actor’s very best: a knock-out uppercut of pure anti-heroism. Like Paul Muni and James Cagney in those Golden Age gangster movies, he is larger, louder and more monstrous than life, and the likeness is surely intentional. This gives the film a darkly comic tone not usually found in Scorsese, but the material could hardly be treated any other way. A scene in which Belfort silently pantomimes rough sex with a customer he is duping over the telephone is played for hollow laughs, and a sequence where a drug-addled Belfort drags himself, inch by inch, across a car park leads to a magnificent slapstick episode – a demonic Jerry Lewis skit. But the film’s wild energy belies carefulness on Scorsese’s part. He is walking a razor-wire tightrope here similar to those he crossed in Goodfellas and Casino; glamourising without endorsing, treating the audience like adults, trusting that our moral sense will compensate for his characters’ lack of one.
Overall the film is pitch perfect in every detail, all of the cast are so good you can sometimes forget that you’re watching actors. The film keeps you hooked from start to finish not just based on the amazing acting but also from the antics of the characters. You can excuse the 3 hours + running time for the sheer electric chemistry of the cast, performances, cinematography and direction. It is a modern day classic and it is safe to say that it will be regarded as one of Scorsese’s and also DiCaprio’s best works.
Watch the trailer for The Wolf Of Wall Street below