Sunday, 2 February 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street

Title: The Wolf of Wall Street
Director: Martin Scorsese
Released: 2013
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kye Chandler, Rob Reiner, Joanna Lumley, P.J. Byrne

Plot: In the mid-1990s, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) 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. This the story of his rise and fall.

Review: So Oscar season is upon us again and this year sees one of the most mixed fields that we have seen in a while, aswell as one which has caused much debate amongst pundits with many favouring “12 Years a Slave” for “Best Film” or “2 hours of shame” as its has come to known by some critics, while some have gone as far as to dismiss it as pretentious tosh.  As for myself as much as I enjoyed “Her” I believe that this will be the film to watch.

Gordon Gecko proclaimed “Greed Is Good” in Oliver Stone’s classic “Wall Street” and now 27 years later it seems that nothing has changed apart from here greed isn’t so much good, but rather bloody divine as Martin Scorsese gives us the surprisingly true story of stockbroker Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio), charting his rise as wealthy stockbroker through to his inevitable fall which resulted in him serving a 36 month stint in prison for defrauding investors.  Of course such falls from grace have frequently been a favourite theme for Scorsese and while the focus of those films has larger been on the mafia and their various devious activities, it could still be argued as to if there really is much difference between their activities and the ones seen being portrayed by these white collar crooks.

Based on the Belfort’s autobiography of the same name, the film has the unique honour of being the only Oscar nominated picture to open with a spirited round of dwarf tossing! Still from here we go back to Jordan’s first day on Wall St, as a fresh faced and aspiring stock broker in training and showing none of his deviant tenancies which come to dominate him in the years which follow. Such dark temptations though soon start to raise their head when a lunch with his boss (a spirited if brief appearance by Matthew McConaughey) whose questionable advice of frequent masturbation and cocaine use barely has time to sink in before Black Monday hits and Jordan career is reduced to selling penny stocks with a Long Island boiler room. It is from here though that he begins to build his new empire with best friend Donnie (Jonah Hill), while recruiting his friends from their own pot dealing and small time schemes to form his own company as he moulds them in his own sales aggressive image. Of course as the company begins to grow and Jordan and his friends soon have more money than they know what to do with, all the while trying to stay one step ahead of the authorities in particular FBI Agent Denham (Chandler) who is constantly waiting for Jordan to slip to.

A fascinating if cautionary tale of greed and the pursuit of wealth, it is one which truly suits Scorsese’s visual style , especially when Jordan celebrates each successful week on the market by throwing the kind of the parties which put even Caligulia to shame with their levels of depraved behaviour, while handing out cash to anyone willing to humiliate themselves for the amusement of himself and his team, as memorably seen in one seen were he pays one female employee to shave her head.  It is however it is Jordon’s gradual corruption which provide the most interesting moments, especially after he separates from his first wife, who seemingly is his sole moral anchor especially when he only amps up his bad behaviour after they separate, while his new wife Naomi (Margot Robbie) is seemingly only happy to support her husband’s vices as long as he keeps her in good life.
It is of course a downward spiral of self-destruction and greed which Scorsese documents in great detail, while only further credit to his talents that he can still pull off what is essentially three hours of douche porn. True this is a daunting prospect to face going into this film, but honestly the first two hours really fly by with the film only slowing down during its final hour as the net around Jordon slowly begins to draw itself in, while Jordon chooses to frequent ignore advise being given to him in favour of ploughing on regardless of the cost. Disappointingly though for the length of the film, the actual trial and sentencing when Jordon is eventually caught seems surprisingly brief unlike the time he spends charting the Jordon’s rise and actions which lead to his inevitable fall.

Once again it is an astounding cast which Scorsese has assembled here, which again isn’t surprising when you consider the master director level he is still working at, it essentially gives him carte blance when it comes to his casting choices, which might explain why he gives key cameos to fellow directors Rob Rainer, Spike Jonze and Jon Favreau, let alone the surprising appearance of Joanna Lumley.  Equally at the same time a number of actors eager to work with Scorsese dropped pay grades in particular Jonah Hill, who made only $60,000 (the lowest rate allowed by the Screen Actors Guild for his amount of work) something made him a steal for the great supporting performance he gives here and one which rightly has earned him a “Best Supporting Actor” nod as he continues to move away from his frat boy humour routes as becomes recognised more for his acting ability than from just being the tubby sidekick.

This however is clearly DiCaprio’s film as he is front and centre throughout the film, while also serving as the narrator a role which is not limited to just a voice over at frequently and often at random Jordon breaks the forth wall to address the audience directly while Scorsese ensures that such tricks constantly hold the audience’s attention. However real credit has to be given to DiCaprio has certainly come a long way from his Teen heartthrob days, something which it could be argued is largely thanks to being mentored by Scorsese, with this film now marking their fifth collaboration. Here though he manages to make even a despicable asshole like Jordon strangely likeable even as he screws over nearly everyone around him.  Of course with his character being shown in such poor light it only makes it all the more surprising that the real life Jordon Belfort signed off on the film, while also serving as DiCaprio’s onset advisor for several of the films key scenes. Considering that DiCaprio has also been chasing the role since 2007, beating Brad Pitt / Paramount Pictures in the bidding war for the rights to the book. Unquestionably the work DiCaprio puts into this film pays off as he makes for a strong ringleader to this circus of greed and depravity while further highlighting the strength of his partnership with Scorsese.

A fascinating film and one certainly fitting of these financially focused times; it only reinforces the fact that Scorsese is still one of the few consistently great directors currently working today, while at the same time certainly bringing his distinctive style to the film. A strong contender for the best picture Oscar, this is one of the few nominated films which lives up to its hype.

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