Posted by G. Raymond Leavold
22. Jan, 2014
The fifth pairing of director Martin Scorsese and leading actor Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street, is a wall-to-wall sex, drugs and all the other things that money can buy. Even dwarf-tossing!
Based on the autobiography of Jordan Belfort, a self-made Wall Street man who was making ludicrous amounts of money in the late-80s and throughout the 90s, but still wanted more (At one point early on in the film he complains about making 49 million dollars in one year. If he’d just made 3 million more he could’ve bragged that he’d made one million for every week of 1988). The film chronicles the decadent, play-by-your-own-rules lifestyle of Belfort and the men under his command who he transformed into big money movers with drive and a purpose.
After an introduction to the character at the height of his success, the film quickly jumps back in time to Belfort’s first day as a bottom-rung stockbroker. He is taken under the wing of a top broker; drug-addicted, chest-thumping psycho Mark Hanna, played by Matthew McConaughey, who leaves a huge impression for the few minutes of screen time he’s given. Hanna shows Belfort the way towards getting everything he’s ever wanted, and earnestly suggests that if he wants to stay on his game he’d better do a lot of cocaine and masturbating.
But when the stock market suffers a devastating crash in 1987, Belfort is out of a job. Using his silver-tongue, he quickly gets to the top at a firm of his own making, selling junk-shares at exorbitant prices and making a bunch of money. And that’s where the fun really begins.
DiCaprio’s performance in this is really enjoyable—and at times hilarious—to watch. He handles the ruthless Belfort with an amazing amount of aggressive energy. There is one scene that I had heard of referred to as ‘The Quaalude Scene’ (there are actually quite a few scenes in which this particular drug is taken, but trust me, you’ll know the one I’m talking about when you see it) that results in an amazing feat of physical acting on Di Caprio’s part. that is almost reminiscent of his turn as Arnie in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.
Jonah Hill is a stand-out as Belfort’s right-hand man Donnie Azoff. Since his turn in Moneyball he has shown that he really has some acting chops, and not just holds his own in this, but at some points is able to elevate himself above the rest of the cast.
Structurally and tonally, the film is close to Scorsese’s Goodfellas in many ways, but there is also a lot of levity in to be found in The Wolf of Wall Street. Many of the scenes are played solely for laughs, and the chemistry between DiCaprio and Hill makes a lot of the humour connect extremely well. Everyone looks like they had an insane amount of fun making this film.
Clocking in at three hours, Wolf runs its course and doesn’t suffer for its bloated running-time, but nor does the film ever take the opportunity to really say anything particularly insightful considering it covers such loaded and timely themes as greed and deceit by people who control more money than most people could ever dream of.
Perhaps it’s refreshing not to have a moral crammed down our throats, but it is surprising that the film doesn’t seem to condemn its subjects for their appalling behaviour in any way. At a few points, maybe it even glorifies them. There is a very subtle moment towards the end of the film that almost makes me think that it is saying that the fun, drug-fuelled ride was worth all the heartache, if only to make the characters feel special in that they didn’t have to live the drab, dull lives of most people. You’ll have to decide that one for yourselves, though.
While not ever truly becoming an important piece of cinema, Wolf is entertaining, looks great and has an awesome soundtrack (3 Howlin’ Wolf songs in one film? Thanks Marty) and is worth the price of admission for the aforementioned Quaalude scene and when Jonah Hill gets his dick out. It has to have been a prosthetic. If not, that guy should do porn.
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