Synopsis: Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, from his rise to a wealthy stockbroker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government.
Anyone who tells you The Wolf of Wall Street doesn’t feel like three hours is lying. It absolutely does. But unlike so many other movies released in the past few years that feel like they are 30 minutes too long to justify their over inflated budgets, WOWS is an epic sprawling tale of greed, corruption and the darkest corners of the American Dream. If American Hustle was an homage to the Scorsese film making of the late 80’s and early 90’s, then WOWS is very much the great man bringing the qualities that made Goodfellas and Casino so repeatedly watchable back into his film making in 2013. And any film that opens with a scene of two men launching a well padded midget at a velcro dartboard as hundreds of inebriated stockbrokers throw money at them pretty much demands your attention.
The story of Jordan Belfort is a perfect one for Scorsese to have developed as his latest incarnation of the Icarus fable. Except rather than flying to close to the Sun, Belfort flew directly into it with 6 hookers, a kilo of cocaine and scotch strapped to his back, flipping double birds and wiping his arse with $100 bills. Based on Belfort’s biography, he represents everything that is wrong with Wall Street; unbridled greed for greed sake all wrapped up in the notion that somehow the ideals of Manifest Destiny are a loophole for acting like a classless douchebag. His arc is also one that Scorsese has explored before with Belfort starting out as an ambitious but relatively humble Wall Street trader who is almost instantaneously corrupted the moment he walks through the door his first day on the job in 1987. When the markets crashed on Black Monday, Belfort seized the opportunity to start again and through guile, talent, unbridled drive and the absence of a moral compass started his own brokerage firm that went on to make him one of the wealthiest and most successful traders in the New York financial district. Unfortunately for his clients, more often than not Belfort’s successes were nothing but smoke and mirrors, their hard earned dollars paying for his cocaine fueled lifestyle with no hope of a return on their hard earned savings.
The Wolf of Wall Street may have earned itself, it’s director and it’s leads a bag of Oscar noms, but it divided critics and audiences like no other of it’s rival nominees. Certainly it is not hard to see why. From start to finish it is relentlessly profane in every sense. Drugs, sex, language. All are on show in the most uncomfortable way. All are pumped up to 11 as a reflection of the almost incomprehensibly debauched lifestyle that Belfort and his band of misogynistic fuckweed friends lived. There is nothing Belfort won’t do to feel a rush, be it blowing cocaine up a hookers balloon knot or flying a helicopter high on booze and non-prescription pills. And his brand of lifestyle was one he expected his minions to replicate as a mark of their successes and his leadership. Sex in the office bathroom during business hours? No problem. Marching bands of naked woman and hookers to engage in cocaine fuelled orgies at the end of the week as a well done to his troops? Consider it nothing but a thing. Needless to say if there was an HR department working at Belfort’s company they were probably to high or busy getting laid to care.
Never has Di Caprio been so utterly engaging, repulsive, hilarious and captivating. It is a tour de force performance within which he seems close to exploding with pure emotion, most notably during a rallying cry to the Gods of Greed as he empowers his employees to do whatever it takes to make money when they launch a new IPO. Equally, he shows his aptitude for the sort of physically demanding performance that Jim Carrey would struggle to match. One particular scene in which he succumbs to a particularly potent dose of Quaaludes is as startling a display of committed acting and comic contortion as I can remember.
WOWS is an ensemble piece though, as any film of this length and narrative magnitude tends to be. I’ll be honest, 5 years ago if you’d told me that by 2014 the name Jonah Hill would be prefixed by “two time Oscar nominee” I would have spat out my Coco Pops all over your face. Yet as he did with Money Ball, Hill showed just how talented an actor he can actually be and pushes Di Caprio every step of the way, fully earning his place at the Oscar table this year. He is to some degree almost unrecognisable as the heavily dentured, bespectacled and ambiguously sexual right hand man to Belfort. I imagine he will continue to make the bulk of his money in average comedies like The Sitter, but like fellow comedians like Adam Sandler and Jim Carrey he has proven that within him beats the heart of a genuinely talented thespian as well as that of a clown.
Certainly Wolf of Wall Street wont be for everyone, and for the love of God don’t go with your parents. Also there does feel a lack of recognition at times for the multiple victims of Belfort’s crimes and the impact he had on them. However, I don’t believe that ultimately Wolf of Wall Street is a film about Belfort’s crimes, as much as it is a well timed and socially relevant insight into how the insatiable greed of a few can bring the world to it’s knees. Could Scorsese cut a few of the many many many scenes of Leo getting his johnson serviced in favour of some cutaways to Joe Everyman sitting looking at his bills piling up having been persuaded to invest his meager savings into one of Belfort’s stocks? Absolutely. Would it have added anything in the grand scheme of things? I would argue not, because Scorsese leaves you in no doubt that Belfort is a sleazy scumbag of the highest order with no moral center. For all his money, women and possessions there is nothing glamorous or desirable about Jordan Belfort’s life as portrayed by Scorsese and Di Caprio. Just as Goodfellas can’t be accused of glamorising organised crime, Wolf of Wall Street can only be seen as glamourising greed if you aspire to be a sociopathic shell of a human being.
Conclusion:. An exhausting rollercoaster of a movie that runs the gauntlet of every emotion through the haze of a constant chemical buzz. Not for everyone, certainly, with many probably put off by the relentless and graphic nature of Belfort’s debauchery. But there is no doubting that this is old school Scorsese film making for a modern generation. And a story that has never felt more relevant.
Cast: Leonardo Di Caprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Rob Reiner, Kyle Chandler, Jon Bernthal