Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie
Genre: Drama/ Biography/ Comedy
As a man who always wanted to be rich, Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) sets his sights on earning his fortune in the brutal world of stock broking on Wall Street. Starting at the very bottom, he gets advice from company director Mark Hanna (Mathew McConaughey) and the day he gets his broker’s license also happens to be the infamous Black Monday and his employer goes bankrupt. After learning the ropes in a small firm, Belfort decides to set his own company up with Donnie Azoff (Hill) and other friends aiming at the richest 1% of America as their clients. Adopting methods that are immoral, slightly unorthodox and certainly illegal to say the least, they all make more money than they could have ever imagined and only crave to make even more. They all indulge in a debaucherous and excessive lifestyle that involves copious amounts of alcohol, drugs, sex, spending and parties while happily ripping off innocent people, but surely it cannot last forever as the FBI is on Belfort’s case.
Like I expect for so many others, the running time of 180 minutes slightly put me off The Wolf of Wall Street, but in Marty we trust and he once again has proved why he is one of the greatest directors of all time. Despite a running time longer than The Hobbit and Django Unchained, The Wolf of Wall Street is a wildly entertaining ride that is made with such energy that it feels like 90 minutes. It is amazing that despite being in his early seventies that Scorsese can still make a film with such verve and energy juts like his earlier masterpieces, and it is even more impressive still that this energy never loses pace for the entire uproariously entertaining 3 hours. Being largely independently funded is probably partly why the running time was not cut down, and though there is the odd scene that could have been cut, overall it is a relief it wasn’t.
This independent funding and no studio bigwig constantly shaking their head and waving their finger at what is happening on screen due to fear of the potentially negative reaction from some established corners is most certainly a blessing. Naturally these characters are despicable, and despite the inevitable rise and fall narrative this film never truly takes a firm moral stand point. Of course there are lessons to be learned in how greed and excess will always get the better of someone, but there is no preachy moral lecture on how stockbrokers are ripping off the rest of the country and Wall Street is evil. Scorsese and Terence Winter know the audience is intelligent enough to know for themselves what is right and wrong, and just focus solely on this often outrageous true story of ultimate self destruction. Indeed there is no secret made of how these characters are ripping off people, but we never get to see the victim’s side and the only bad effects we get to see of our protagonist’s greed is how it destroys them. The tone also helps; The Wolf of Wall Street is an often extremely hilarious film that never truly takes itself seriously, and is only all the better for it.
For me it doesn’t matter how morally bankrupt characters are, if they have likeable qualities and are genuinely interesting and engaging then I am happy to spend the duration of a film with them and am fully interested in what happens to them. Thanks to Terence Winter’s excellent script and DiCaprio’s energetic and charismatic performance, Jordan Bellfort is a character I was more than happy to spend these three hours with. Sometimes narrating in voice-over, sometimes narrating directly to us through the camera; DiCaprio gives one of his best and most energetic performances so far, oozing charisma from start to finish (and appearing in pretty much every scene.) Sporting huge teeth and a questionable fashion sense, as Belfort’s Vice President and best mate, Jonah Hill is also excellent. It also through Hill’s character we see that Belfort is actually not completely heartless, and capable of the occasional (well, extremely rare) moment of loyalty and compassion.
Scorsese’s direction and camerawork is also spot-on: With so much excess and energy on screen, he rightfully elects to predominantly keep the camera static, giving us all the chance to be sucked in by the lifestyle of these characters and times wishing we was part of it (well I know I was). The vigour of the performances, the locations, the cinematography and the excellent use of music (A Scorsese trademark as we all know) allow the camera to simply be an observer. We get the occasional slow-mo or jilting camera movement, usually to perfectly capture the effects of these character’s extreme drug abuse, and as you would expect with a seasoned pro such as Marty, these are used to maximum effect but sparingly enough to never be overdone or feel repetitive or tacky.
The Wolf of Wall Street thoroughly deserves its awards nominations and while with the average American Hustle David O Russell is trying to copy/emulate Scorsese and that film may undeservedly scope more awards, Scorsese himself has reminded us you cannot beat the real thing (or man in this case).
Riotously funny and outrageously entertaining from start to finish; The Wolf of Wall Street is almost Scorsese back to his very best and certainly the best outing for the Marty/Leo partnership yet, with in an epic of excessive proportions.