Wednesday 22 January 2014

Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

Year:  2013 (U.K Release 2014)
Director:  Martin Scorsese
Screenplay: Terrence Winter
Starring: Leonardo Di Caprio, Margot Robbie, Jonah Hill, Matthew McConnghey

Synopsis is here:

Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street is like a speedball. Once again investigating American criminality, Wolf first hits like a cocaine high as it rattles through indulgence after indulgence, I found myself almost losing myself often in its depravity. In its first few minutes we are given a ludicrous dwarf throwing sequence. As the film goes on, the fornication and debaucherous excess seem limitless. The well known gangster arc seeps in within time and the slow heroin fall enters, it too seemingly going on forever. The crash is going to be a heavy one.

In terms of structure, WOWS doesn’t steer to far from my favourite Scorsese film; Goodfellas (minus that fact the speedball allegory is inverted somewhat), but here Scorsese takes his view of blue collar crime which bread and butter and bleaches it white. The calls are made with more reckless abandon, the numbers are larger, the hold and desire of greed seemingly stronger. Looking back through Gangs of New York to Casino to here with Wolf’s Jordan Belfort, Scorsese’s film is at times laugh out loud, but no less acidic. It looks to make the statement that here, in the right place and time; this is where all his psychopaths end up. Legit.

I feel this is why so many people have spent their time attacking WOWS. The likes of Toby Young have
aimed articles as shallow as the characters we’re observing. Belfort isn’t the be all and end all of the recent financial collapse. He is just one of the people who didn’t help matters. But then again, Young doesn’t bother to mention documentaries such as Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room or The Inside Job in his piece (why would he, the free market is fine, right?). Scorsese uses one man to illustrate just how widespread the problem was/is (delete as appropriate).

Leonard DiCaprio takes on the role of swindler Jordon Belford with the same charisma that infiltrated his Great Gatsby. In his finest physical performance to date; whether doped to his gourd on Quaaludes, or restraining his body from sexual desire, DiCaprio manipulates his body to silent comedy era levels. Meanwhile his Liotta-like narration has him spitting snake oil with each sentence. Every word is precise, every smile looking to be hiding something.  Twice while detailing the intricacies of his schemes, he stops, smiles and distracts us. Why do we need to know about details, when we should be enjoying the ride?

Scorsese’s film is always aware of reminding the viewer in what way the scales are tipped.  During one of the company’s weekly blowouts, we witness a woman shaving her head for a fraction of what Belfort earns. The sight of this is disturbing enough, but the way the women is nearly pushed aside and disappears into the lewd crowd of testosterone is telling. Early in the film, Belfort’s boss, Mark Hanna (a spirited McConaughey), installs the idea that clients must remind in a land of fantasy.  Scorsese’s film casts a shadow over the illusion with sparks of painful reality. It’s easy to laugh at Belfort giving the finger to a poor sap he’s just sold junk, but the pain lies in the voice on the other end that thinks they’ve got a good deal.

For a 180 minute film made by a 70+ year old man, The Wolf of Wall Street particularly crackles with energy. After Hugo; one may have been expecting a softer touch from the old hand, yet WOWS shows that there’s no signs to winding down from the director (or his regular editor Thelma Schoonmaker) in term of intensity. The controversy that has followed the film has come across as frivolous, with many arguments suggesting that such indignity should be sanitised. Many seemingly forgetting that the “lovable losers” of Marty’s past were psychopaths in the same way. It's just that Terrence Winter's script is smart enough to capture the amusement in the shennagans.

I’m happy that such provocative and vibrant films are still being pushed into the mainstream. While I won’t lie in saying that certain readings will not be kind to WOWS, but I also feel that WOWS is scabrous enough in its indictments. The Wolf of Wall Street is hilariously funny in the same knowing way the likes of Chris Morris’ comedy can be, but is intelligent enough to keep the audience at the right distance. Its final moments are taunting ones, asking a question to a crowd of desperate faces. We know the answer but after what we’ve seen, do we want to respond?