t h e w o l f o f w a l l s t r e e t
17th January 2014
20th December 2013
A tripped out and very funny take on the American Dream, Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street is an exhilarating expedition with a seductively powerful central performance from DiCaprio.
Based on the true story, The Wolf of Wall Street documents the supersonic rise of the titular wolf, Jordan Belfort. A fresh faced Belfort gets off the bus at Wall Street with a spring in his step and a boyish grin on his 80’s tanned face ready to make his mark as a stockbroker. He may be young but he has balls and it seems like his day is coming. Unfortunately that day turns out to be 1987’s Black Monday otherwise known as the biggest market crash since 1929 and our fresh faced dream boy is sent packing with his tail between his legs to work at a hovel in a strip mall selling penny stocks to make ends meet. Instead of returning to boring suburban life, Belfort takes these ridiculed penny stocks and really starts to sell them. Making thousands of dollars a month, the dream is back on track. Belfort recruits bizarre toy store salesman, a brilliantly comic turn from Jonah Hill and the two of them set up alone. The company is ticking along nicely when an off the cuff comment from Jordan’s wife about taking money from the rich instead of the poor lights a fuse and propels Jordan’s company, now rebranded as Stratton Oakmont, into the stratosphere. As it’s successes get bigger and bigger Oakmont becomes a testosterone fuelled, licentious, libidinous and bacchanalian pit of depravation. A bit like Broken Shark Towers. It would be completely unbelievable what goes down at that Stratton Oakmont if it weren’t all true. Terrifying.
Early scenes of Jordan starting to make it as a broker under the mentorship of one decidedly slippery Mark Hanna (a disgustingly fun cameo from Matthew McConaughey) set us up for a somewhat bizarre tone that really doesn’t stop for the 180 (yes 180) minutes running time. It’s frenetic, it’s funny but it’s impossible to settle into. Scorsese does not let us relax, it wasn’t even clear from a first viewing if it was actually enjoyable, it was exhausting! However after the dust settled it was clear to see what a shrewd and unconventional film it is.
As Stratton Oakmont grows as do Belfort’s excesses. Scenes of Jordan pumped up, coked up, and on the mike selling his script to enraptured co-workers are reminiscent of Tom Cruise selling sex in Magnolia. Belfort is like an oversexed evangelical preacher about to make someone walk again. He was the ultimate salesman, he didn’t really have any special skills or talents other than that and he ended up a millionaire with a hot wife and a Ferrari – and there, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the American Dream.
It is of course familiar territory, scene after scene is reminiscent of Goodfellas spun from a different angle but Jordan is a very different beast to Henry Hill and DiCaprio a very different actor to Liotta. We here at BS adore Leonardo DiCaprio (well the female one does anyway), he can do no wrong particularly when he is a teensy bit pudgy (which he isn’t here, shame) but he is on cracking form. I Can’t think of another actor who could make Belfort likeable like DiCaprio does and it’s nice to see him displaying some funny bones. A memorable scene of Jordan using a payphone at the local country club just as the three uber string Quaaludes kick in is hilarious slapstick, physically played out to perfection by DiCaprio. Another scene on the plane to Geneva is full on hilarious slapstick but again with that dark uncomfortable undertone stopping us actually enjoying is all too much. Although we don’t get as close to Belfort as we do to Henry Hill – still not sure we ever really engage with him on a human level – DiCaprio's performance manages to keep us close and interested. The boy/man charm he can’t help but inject into his roles pulls Belfort up from the gaping void of repulsiveness of which he is constantly brushing the edge of.
DiCaprio has some great support from Jonah Hill (those teeth, that hair!) and some other character actors, namely John Berthnal, P.J Byrne and Ethan Suplee. Nice to see Rob Reiner giving good angry dad and the ridiculously hot Margot Robbie adds some oestrogen as second wife The Duchess. Spike Jonze also pops up, as do Jon Favreau and Jean Djuardin. The only strange bit of casting was Joanna Lumley, bizarre.
The Wolf of Wall Street is really unlike anything we’ve seen in recent cinematic history. And my-oh-my the debauchery. Scorsese is shoving it down our throats with the same speed Belfort shoves drugs down his. Midget tossing, endless lines of coke, fistfuls of Quaaludes and more animalistic fucking than you can shake a dick at. It’s impossible to have this much visual depravation being thrown at you for three hours without starting to question its morals - unless you are a psychopath, then my apologies, carry on. On the surface it is presented as a thigh slapping, boys club, humorous tale of excess but when you start to look deeper it’s pretty darn clever what Scorsese has pulled off here. By allowing us the viewer to say, whoa hang on, this is too much, we can all feel better about ourselves. Thanks Marty.
Check out the trailer here.