Movie Review: The Wolf of Wall Street is Incredible
If I hadn’t known Martin Scorsese directed Wolf of Wall Street I would have assumed it was some hot, young director making his debut. Like when Orson Welles rewrote everything with Citizen Kane. Some young prodigy, furious with the economic pit we are stuck in channeling that frustration into three blistering hours of cinema. Instead it’s 71 year old Marty Scorsese making one of the best films of his staggering career. Compare him to, say, Francis Ford Coppola whose last film was Twixt and you start to understand how remarkable this film is.
The Wolf of Wall Street is the real life tale of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), a stock broker who over the course of a decade stole/swindled/schemed/earned [delete where applicable] millions upon millions of dollars. The story is Scorsese all over. Greed, corruption, addiction. It’s the classic rise and fall tale of another would be Master of the Universe. It’s a biting and unflinching satire that indicts and demonises the men that simply manipulate money by “taking it from someone else’s pocket and putting it into theirs”. It’s exploitative, horrifying and obscene.
And it’s Funny! Probably the funniest film of the year, and if not for Anchorman 2 would boast the most absurdist humour of 2013. From Belfort simply trying to get in a car while tripping his face off to him trying to explain to his wife that snorting cocaine off another woman’s breasts is “not what it looks like” this film has a higher laugh per minute ratio than almost any film I’ve recently seen.
Yes, cocaine. Lot’s of cocaine. And other drugs. And sex. And expletives. It borders on X-Rated. Money was the drug of choice for these men but that didn’t stop them dabbling in every other narcotic or sexual perversion under the sun. There were reports in the last few weeks that a heavily censored version was filmed for critics in Dubai. Profanity, drug use and sexual content was removed. I was bemused reading it and having seen it I’m trying to imagine what those critics would have made of a five and a half minute version of this film. The film is intentionally provocative. It’s excessive because these people were excessive. We need to be shocked and appalled by their seemingly unlimited hedonism because it is shocking and appalling.
The cast is absolutely stellar. Jonah Hill firmly cements himself as a character actor. Remember how we vilified him for having the audacity to say that he had successfully transitioned from comedian to legitimate actor? Well it turns out he was right. He near steals the film. Donnie would have been played by Joe Pesci if this were filmed in the early nineties. Hill has that mad cap unpredictability and in a number of obviously unscripted sequences his ability to riff and improvise bring some huge laughs.
Also giving us a big surprise is Margot Robbie as Naomi, Belfort’s wife. The Wolf of Wall Street is a film bursting at the seams with deplorable misogynists. Having a strong female in Belfort’s life doesn’t exactly level the field but Robbie more than holds her own against the big names. She has presence and charisma to spare and is always on hand to remind us how moronic these men are.
Matthew McConaughey, Rob Reiner and Kyle Chandler all give amazing support as well but it’s all about DiCaprio. Leo has sort of been churning out the same role over the last few years. Inception, Shutter Island, The Departed, all see him as a twitchy, damaged loner, always on the cusp of a killing spree. He fled the heartthrob roles and settled into the crazy weirdo roles. Here he turns that edgy energy into GIANT MOUND OF COKE energy. He is hysterical in this and the level of his physical comedy will amaze you. This is a very loud, flash, showy role but it’s stunning nonetheless. He judges Belfort perfectly. Making him funny, flash and charismatic but never to the point of making him likeable.
Make no mistake this isn’t Ocean’s Eleven where we cheer the criminals because they are suave. These people are hideous. They are criminals and they utterly destroyed people’s lives to fill their pockets.
Scorsese wants to glamorise and sexualise. He wants you to envy them because that makes you complicit. So when he pulls back the curtain and hints at the carnage they left behind it shames and shocks you. Nobody needs to be told what the damage is because we’re living it.
And that’s Scorsese genius. There’s no hand holding. Aside from one or two expertly judged moments where we are snapped back to reality, the fallout of these crimes is hidden. We don’t need to be told that guys who will literally snort through a $100 dollar bill then throw it away are scumbags. There’s no cheap moralising here, and even Belfort’s inevitable comeuppance is short lived. The film is one long binge but not once is it a celebration. It’s a damning indictment of greed but with a bleak underlying “These guys got away with this”. Unfortunately crime, Scorsese says, sometimes pays.