Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street Review

Mr Scorsese, why are you making me laugh at this? The Wolf of Wall Street is a not very cautionary tale of disgusting greed, loathsome behaviour and the many perks of being a white collar criminal. It is excess all areas; vast quantities of drugs are consumed, prostitutes are used and abused and cash flows quickly into the pockets of our real-life anti-hero Jordan Belfort. It should be repugnant. It is repugnant. But against my better judgement, it is also hysterically funny; a pitch black comedy that you might not want to laugh at but you probably will.

Jordan Belfort is the Wolf of Wall Street. As a newly married young man, he moves to New York to work on stocks and make his fortune. After losing his job in the big crash of 1987, Belfort starts his own firm, trading in penny stocks and convincing people dumber than him to invest in shares that he knows will never go anywhere. He soon works his way up, partnering with Donnie Azoff and taking on the big boys of Wall Street with his illegal, immoral and irresponsible firm Stratton Oakmont. As he 'earns' ridiculous amounts of money by ripping people off, he also develops an unquenchable thirst for every drug under the sun and using prostitutes becomes another favourite pastime. It is the rise and fall of a white collar gangster; perhaps not as violent as Henry Hill but equally if not more destructive, decadent and disgusting. He may not murder people, but Belfort ruins plenty of lives.

It's hard to focus on the victims of Belfort's story as we never get the chance to see them. We never meet those who lose their money and we never see the consequences of his actions for the people involved. Belfort, as played by Leonardo DiCaprio is, takes us along for his ride. We see events as he sees them and nothing is going to kill his buzz except maybe the intrusion of the FBI. From the vile language of his first experience on Wall Street through to the head shaving of women for cold hard cash, throwing of little people on to office targets and the stag party to end all stag parties, Belfort is surrounded by decadence and moral decay. DiCaprio talks us through it all with a voice over and direct to camera address; sweeping you along for the ride with a smile and wink and rarely giving you a moment to think about those less fortunate than Belfort in all of this.

Scorsese does not hold back from showing any of the debauchery; the language, the sex, the occasional violence and most of all the drugs. The Wolf of Wall Street has the most swear words in one feature film in history. It has enough cocaine to make Scarface blush. And when Belfort and Azoff get hold of some super powerful Lemmon Quaaludes, it has one of the funniest drug taking scenes in cinema history as Belfort loses all control of his body. This scene pretty much sums up the film. It is absolutely hysterical. Belfort's excess leads to DiCaprio delivering a comedy masterclass as he crawls his way to his car under the influence. It is only when he gets to the car and begins driving that you realise what a selfish, dangerous, immoral guy you are watching. The consequences of his actions could have been fatal but still you laugh until tears come out.

The Wolf of Wall Street wallows in the behaviour of utter scumbags. Scorsese enjoys their company and makes us enjoy it too. It may be a rise and fall story but there is no real fall here. Belfort gets off far too easily and Scorsese reminds us in a striking final shot that we are all still watching Belfort; giving him our money gladly and lapping up his every word. The Wolf of Wall Street will leave you in a moral vacuum. I heard people leaving the cinema saying they wanted Belfort's life. Scorsese shows it how it was. Despite everything, it looks like fun and he pretty much got away with it. Belfort is undoubtedly a scumbag but with Scorsese and DiCaprio at his back, he is an eminently watchable scumbag.

Though the film is a little long, occasionally allowing some scenes (particularly some moments of improvisation) to slow the pace, it also gives plenty of chance for the stars to shine. Matthew McConaughey, Jonah Hill, Joanna Lumley and Jean Dujardin all get to show off their comic chops with Hill being particularly committed to bringing Donnie Azoff to hideous life. Backed by Terence Winter's snappy screenplay and Scorsese's smart direction, the larger than life characters all leave an impact, no matter how small their role in the three hour, event packed film.

The Wolf of Wall Street is Scorsese's best since Goodfellas. BUT it is also a disgrace. It makes you forget just what a complete shit Belfort really is. It is not angry enough. Belfort gets off easily. He turns on everyone around him, gets away with a tiny prison sentence in a white collar prison and is still not paying nearly enough back to his victims. To have Belfort appear in the film is just another slap in the face for the forgotten victims of the story. Scorsese has made a fun film about a man who deserves nothing but disdain. There is little caution in this 'cautionary' tale. We need to stop paying to listen to Belfort but with a film like this, Scorsese makes that very difficult.

More reviews at I Love That Film:

Out of the Furnace


Dallas Buyers Club

12 Years A Slave

American Hustle

All is Lost

The Railway Man

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Captain Phillips

Saving Mr. Banks

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