With Martin Scorsese’s new movie The Wolf of Wall Street you are either going to allow yourself to be picked up, kicked in the nuts, dragged along the floor by the hair of your head and just plain swept along by the sheer verve and rollercoaster high-drop energy of this thing; or…
Or you’re going to shake your head in bewildered loathing at how appalling these people are, wonder why you would want to spend three hours of your time in their company and then find yourself in a rage that essentially the corrupt Wall Street trader Jordan Belfort (on whose memoirs Terrence Winter’s screenplay is based) got away with it all. Well, unless you consider that serving 22 months in jail for being one of the corrupt architects who reshaped our world to its detriment is any kind of punishment. Especially when he came out of jail and into a lucrative career on the speaker’s circuit before selling the movie rights to his life for a million.
I could feel a bit of both, but I have to tell you that mainly I just found that the running time flew past and that this was really terrific entertainment.
Is Martin Scorsese really 71? If so, what the Hell is he taking? If ever anything looked like a young man’s film, with its frantic camera work and multiple gimmicks it is The Wolf of Wall Street. As he charts the hedonistic, alcohol-soaked, drug-fuelled rise and rise and kind of fall of bent stockbroker Belfort (Leonardo de Caprio) he appears to have slipped back into old pill-popping habits himself—except that his film is just too damned good.
I was going to say that it is similar in pace and intent to Goodfellas, only without the gangsters; except of course that Belmont and his crew—“some sort of twisted Robin Hood who robs from the rich and gives to himself and his Merry Band of colleagues”—are gangsters. Certainly they do enough real damage to the poor suckers who invest with them– and who are disparaged throughout as ‘stupid dumb fucking morons’— as any gun-toting wiseguy could.
Scorsese and Winter aren’t interested in that, though. In fact I can’t think of any scene where there is shown the ramifications on the little people who are mocked so relentlessly. Except perhaps near to the end. I won’t say much except that it features a subway and the solid, tenacious FBI man (Patrick Denham), who has been chasing Belfort and who I frankly would like to have seen more of. Rather, they want us to see the sheer decadence of these people in general and of Belfort in particular, a man with so much money that he can blow two million dollars on a bachelor party: “Sure, it was obscene in the normal world; but who the fuck would want to live there?”
Indeed, he likens his ability on Wall Street and what it gives him to winning ‘the Golden Ticket to the Chocolate Factory’ and splurges on yachts, prostitutes, drugs, helicopters and…well, you get the idea.
And there is no doubt that some of the scenes are incredibly funny, especially the drug scenes:
“We liked to get as fucked up as possible during our business pow-wows in order to stimulate our free-flowing ideas which is why we were popping ‘ludes like they were M & Ms.”
I thought for a while that Scorsese was making no moral judgements on his characters; now I’m not so sure. He does seem to have a sneaking admiration for the Wolf; and yet before he goes too far he generally undercuts this with a scene which shows him to be an absolute dirtbag, especially when we see him coked up and driving his child right into a crash or in a shocking moment when he just lashes out and punches his wife in the stomach.
This is Leonardo de Caprio’s fifth collaboration with Scorsese, apparently taking over from Robert de Niro who had served as his regular actor over much of his previous career—and here I doubt that de Caprio has ever been better, serving up a performance that compliments perfectly Scorsese’s demented camera work; or is that the other way around?
In any case, there is an utterly astonishing physicality here, especially in an awful and yet hilarious scene where Belfort, unable to even walk, rolls himself over to his car. And yes, I know that in real life the consequences could have been horrible, but I don’t think I had laughed so much at the antics of a depraved drug fiend since Johnny Depp tried to book into a hotel in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. By the way, make no mistake about it: it is the decadence that this film is about, not the logistics of what led to his downfall. In fact at one point, direct to the camera, de Caprio pretty much tells us that we wouldn’t know what he was talking about anyway.
Jonah Hill is also terrific as Belfort’s main guy Donnie Azoff and Matthew McConaughey is superb in a cameo as his early mentor, who regales him in the ways of keeping ‘sharp’ through liberal use of drugs and sex.
Another idea I liked was having director Rob Reiner play Max, Belfort’s father. It just sort of appealed to me that all those years ago it was Reiner who sent Scorsese up in the classic This is Spinal Tap.
And as to the man himself, what can you say? There has been no doubt for a long time now that Martin Scorsese is one of the greatest film-makers that has ever lived. Despite the odd mis-fire (yes, I am talking to you, Gangs of New York) he is never less than interesting. When you look at him throw in everything that he has learned over the years—and quite a bit more– with The Wolf of Wall Street, you just have to wonder if he hasn’t just hit his creative peak?