Tuesday, 28 January 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street Review

In the mid-1990s, Jordan Belfort and the rest of his associates from brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont became the very definition of excess and debauchery, their offices a boiler room fueled by cocaine and greed. High pressure sales tactic and less-than-legal behind-the-scenes manipulation bred plenty of twenty-something millionaires, and Belfort built himself an empire at the top of the heap. His rise and fall is chronicled in The Wolf of Wall Street, based on the memoir of the same name.

It reminded me of The Great Gatsby and no, not because it has Leo in it. This is a modern day telling of the corruption of the American Dream. How can a scumbag like this be allowed to cheat his way to the top? It’s a clever film if you think about it like that, but are people thinking about it like that? Did Scorsese and DiCaprio look at it like that? I’m not so sure.

If they did and this is a satirical comedy about douchebags stock brokers then this is a fantastic film. It hits all the right notes, it’s funny, it’s outrageous and every character is a downright arsehole. However, if it’s not I’m very worried indeed. Many have likened this film to Scorsese’s Goodfellas because it makes the audience like a horrible character. Does it? Does it really? If anyone left the cinema liking this character I’m very worried for society and humanity. If the audience are laughing with the characters rather than at their stupidity then I want to leave this Earth. And if they can find relevance in Belfort they need to leave. 

As a fan of Scorsese and a fan of DiCaprio I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt. This film is terrifically funny, outrageously good and wonderfully acted.

A lot of the credit of the film's overall success has to be awarded to Leonardo DiCaprio. I've never seen him truly "go for it" in a way that he exhibits as Jordan Belfort. In his breaking of the fourth wall, to his long but completely engaging monologues about life, money, and greed, it's the most assured and compelling work by the actor to date. When DiCaprio unleashed his talents in the mid-90's in What's Eating Gilbert Grape? and later stole the hearts of tween girls everywhere in Titanic and Romeo & Juliet, who knew this is the role he'd been gearing up to play? This is the role of his career and something that the Academy Awards should look to for his long overdue recognition. It’s a shame that Chiwetel Ejiofor tour-de-force performance in 12 Years a Slave is in the running along with him.

It's a charming and adventurous turn that presents a conundrum to the audience as we find ourselves both enamored and loathing the pure essence of Jordan. He's a disgusting human being, but his charisma keeps us watching. (DON'T get that confused with liking the character.)  A sequence of DiCaprio crawling on the floor will probably be the scene of the year. This is DiCaprio's crowning achievement.

As the magnetic and cheesy-minded right-hand man, Jonah Hill's performance as Donnie Azoff is another great turn for the 30-year-old actor. He's allowed to explore some of his comedic ticks and beats that he may not have ever had the opportunity to explore in films like Superbad or 21 Jump Street. In Wolf, he relies on his own instincts, and his chemistry with DiCaprio, which has helped him before for his Oscar-nominated work in Moneyball opposite Brad Pitt. He reminds me of a mix between Chris Penn in Reservoir Dogs or Joe Pesci in any Scorsese film. Super sleazy, super hateable.

Matthew McConaughey, is one scene shy of winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. While his work in Dallas Buyers Club will bring him the acclaim and recognition that he deserves, The Wolf of Wall Street is a prime example of what he should be doing when he's not working or seeking out the strong, independent features that are geared for awards recognition. Stealing every frame and focus from DiCaprio in his ten minute screen time, McConaughey utilizes all his charm and spunk as Mark Hanna, the mentor to young Jordan as he started out. It's so disappointing that he doesn't turn up again. I was longing to see him. He was fantastic. 

However, it’s way too long. I’d say about a third of the film is Leo and Co taking drugs, sleeping with prostitutes or partying (usually all three). Come on, man, we don’t need to see an hour of this. We know this dude is a dirtbag after the first couple of scenes. There’s no need to reinforce that. It’s already been told. It’s heavily superfluous.

It’s an odd film. To many it’ll be the new Leonardo DiCaprio film. An occasion that the mainstream celebrate. Men love his charisma and charm, women love to look at him. That’s a problem. People should be studying this in the same way they study The Great Gatsby and that’s as much credit as it can get. It’s an interesting film, but it’s an awful film for the mainstream to be celebrating.