movie film review | chris tookey

Wolf of Wall Street

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  Wolf of Wall Street Review
Tookey's Rating
9 /10
Average Rating
6.98 /10
Leonardo DiCaprio , Matthew McConaughey , Jonah Hill
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Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Terence Winter, based on Jordan Elfort’s autobiography

Released: 2013
Genre: DRAMA
Origin: US
Length: 180

Funny decadence, with a touch of genius.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Martin Scorsese’s biopic of Wall Street swindler Jordan Belfort is a directorial tour de force, riotously entertaining (even funnier than his previous black comedy, After Hours) and a showcase for Leonardo Di Caprio’s acting talent (here he has the bulldozing quality of James Cagney at his best). Not many film-makers have genius. Scorsese does.

As in GoodFellas, the film whose narrative structure he borrows here, Scorsese is keen to show the seductive power of evil. But there are reminders too that this man trained to become a priest. He deliberately undercuts the happy hedonism with revelations of just how ugly the actions are of this leading man and his mob of greedy followers. At no time are we in doubt that, if Wall Street is a jungle, these guys are the jackals.

There is virtually no morality on display, and Scorsese allows Belfort to portray himself in grotesquely flattering terms. Those who suffered from Belfort’s schemes – the ordinary men and women he casually fleeced or ruined – are conspicuously ignored. Scorsese, as usual, is primarily concerned with winners, not losers. His willingness to lionize gangsterism, machismo and galloping misogyny remains his least endearing trait.

But Scorsese and his able screenwriter Terence Winter (whose previous portraits of gangsters include The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire) lay on the excess, depravity and exhilaration in wrongdoing to such an extent that, even at three hours, the film is never dull. The craziness builds to hallucinatory heights, in a way that Baz Luhrmann’s fatally underpowered The Great Gatsby failed to achieve, even with the same leading man.

The Wolf of Wall Street contains three sequences of uncontestable brilliance. The first comes when a fabulously mean, cynical broker (Matthew McConaughey) takes the fresh-faced Belfort under his malodorous wing and lures him onto the primrose path of devilment. For once, Di Caprio isn’t centre stage, and he allows McConaughey to contribute a memorable cameo of Mephistophelean gusto.

The second outstanding sequence comes when Belfort attempts to lure FBI agent Denham (Kyle Chandler) over to the dark side. The tense interplay of these two characters is one of the few moments when Scorsese hints that humanity does not consist entirely of exploiters and exploited. Chandler gives a timely portrait of a man who – unlike everyone else in the movie – can see Belfort for what he is. The moment when he decides which way to jump is pivotal.

The third and weirdest sequence is pure, or rather impure, drug-addled slapstick, as Belfort and his slimy but devoted sidekick Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) ingest far too many Quaaludes with demeaningly disastrous results. The whole routine is extravagantly funny and allows DiCaprio to reveal an unexpected talent for physical comedy.

Despite the film’s assets, three hours is overlong for a comedy with no character development. Jordan Belfort is as unrepentant at the end as he was at the start. He never grows, and though it is easy to respect DiCaprio’s bravura performance, the character himself remains contemptible throughout. The catalogue of excess becomes monotonous and exhausting – though I am sure that is Scorsese’s point.

Another warning is in order. Anyone hoping for analysis of the financial crash to which Belfort contributed so cavalierly will be disappointed. Don’t be deceived by critical over-enthusiasm into thinking that the film constitute a critique of capitalism. The scale may be epic, but the focus is narrow. It’s not very political, and far from intellectual.

What Scorsese generates instead is cumulative disgust at these ridiculous, braying, heartless dunderheads. We may start off attracted by their go-getting avarice, but we can hardly help but end up sickened by their greed and lack of scruple. It’s a moral journey for us, if not for Jordan Belfort.

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