The Wolf of Wall Street (18)
You’d never picture Leonardo DiCaprio playing an ugly character, but The Wolf of Wall Street defies nature casting him as one of the filthiest, most repugnant characters ever seen on screen. Not on the outside of course, but on the inside.
The real life ‘wolf’ of the title is Jordan Belfort, who upon first hearing this broadsheet bestowed nickname was furious. All his life his sole ambition was to make a fortune, and in the late eighties he began a career as a stockbroker. He learnt an aggressive and unforgiving style of offloading worthless shares to gullible investors, and by the early nineties had set up his own firm and was literally rolling in cash. Meanwhile the FBI had their eye on him from the start and quietly stalked him in the years that followed.
DiCaprio, keen to play Belfort and push the boundaries of his acting range, persuaded his mentor Martin Scorsese to tackle the project. Scorsese’s stroke of genius was to shoot the film in the only way that could make three hours of unapologetic wickedness watchable – by twisting it into a black comedy so audaciously hilarious it’s impossible to look away from.
The film is a delicious whirlwind of excess and energy, a trait Scorsese maintains despite limited use of his trademark ever moving camera. Another Scorsese staple that makes a welcome return is the non-stop jukebox soundtrack; his most contemporary compilation yet and a treat for the ears. The film’s frenzied drug-fueled sequences are among the most intoxicating pieces of pure entertainment Scorsese has ever made.
Thelma Schoonmaker, his longtime editing partner, had the unenviable task of piecing together what must have been a (digital) mountain of footage, and the result is a sprawling, indulgent runtime that the director apparently struggled to reach after his preferred edit ran closer to four hours! This traces the source of one of the film’s only weaknesses, a few slightly disjointed scenes with glaring continuity errors, likely not helped by the amount of improvisation the director encouraged his actors to experiment with. These flaws are a small price to pay, however, for the mad, inspired pieces of acting they afforded.
Much can and must be said about DiCaprio’s performance. There’s never been a more apt time to laud his abilities – he’s never been better, and probably never will be again. It’s a no holds barred, guns blazing, thunderously bravura turn that blows away his past performances in terms of dynamite charisma. He’s likely second only to Daniel Day-Lewis as the greatest actor working today. He loses himself in Belfort’s despicable character with such glee that it must have been intimidating just to be near him on set. If he doesn’t win the Oscar this year he might as well retire in protest!
Screenwriter Terence Winter, as a former regular writer for The Sopranos and having collaborated previously with Scorsese on Boardwalk Empire, has impeccable pedigree. His sly and hard hitting script doesn’t disappoint, sporting boldness and subtlety to spare.
Some have criticised the film for glamorising the lifestyle of these money-grubbing conmen, but such critics are completely missing the point. The lifestyle is glamorous, it is attractive. It absolutely does make civilised, modest ‘good citizens’ look like boring nobodies, or ‘schmucks’, as a character in another Scorsese film might say. The Wolf of Wall Street does nothing more and nothing less than portray the tempting sights, sounds and pleasures of total immersion in sin, in all their technicolour wonder.
But while Belfort was living it up, the law was watching, waiting to strike. The real crime is what became of him after that day had come and gone – an infuriating injustice that he may well get away with, until the day he dies.
Scorsese’s scorching picture is a terrifying defrocking of the outrageous immorality and lack of consequence that goes unchallenged around the globe (not just in the world of high finance), and a spine-chilling finger pointed at the audience, saying, “Deep down you really wish you could be like this guy, don’t you”? The scary thing is that if we’re honest, most of us would have to answer ‘yes’.
(Photo via thewolfofwallstreet.com)