Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo Di Caprio, Margot Robbie, Jonah Hill, Kyle Chandler, Matthew McConaughey, Jon Bernthal, Rob Reiner, Cristin Milioti, Jean Dujardin, Joanna Lumley
Plot: Jordan Belfort (Di Caprio) builds his own stock-selling empire, where he makes every employee rich and turns himself into a luxurious, well-loved celebrity. But behind the façade, he leads a very dangerous and ugly life.
Wolf of Wall Street has a secret weapon. On paper, it is the same kind of material we expect from January cinema, as moviemakers set their eyes on those much loved OSCARs. It is cursed with a bloated length, centres around a larger than life character played by one of this generation’s greatest actors and, at times, tries a bit too hard to be different (see opening shot of Di Caprio snorting coke out of a hooker’s ass). However, its secret weapon, that only a few of the other contenders have, is a wicked sense of humour.
Humour has never been too closely associated with Scorsese. Taxi Driver is one of the darkest movies of that decade. Shutter Island features this sense of imprisonment and inability to escape one’s mind. However, the Wolf of Wall Street turns into one of the funniest films I have seen in a long time. Perhaps there is just something funny about how disconnected the rich are from the real world. There is an extended scene of Belfort discussing with his assistant managers how much you can throw at a dwarf before it counts as harassment. There is something annoying yet amusing about how Belfort’s answer to every problem is life is to: just get rich. Yes, Wolf of Wall Street could potentially be the most enjoyable to watch out of all of the OSCAR nominees, simply because it does become an almost non-stop thrill ride of laughs and incredibility. Even serious scenes are played for laughs. An emotional break-up with his first wife (Cristin Milioti, the mother from How I Met Your Mother), is instantly followed with a scene where Belfort moves his new wife into their house. There is something refreshing about one of the tensest scenes being played entirely for laughs. It seriously becomes one of the funniest ten minutes of film in recent memory. All I am saying is out-of-date drugs, an important phone call and Leonardo Di Caprio suddenly developing cerebral palsy.
And yes, Leonardo Di Caprio definitely earns that OSCAR nomination of his. There is no other actor I can think of that can jump so smoothly from bumbling idiot in one scene to the classiest charmer imaginable in the next. I keep wanting to criticise the actor for type-casting himself. Wolf of Wall Street, Great Gatsby, Aviator… he always plays the flawed rich guy. But at the same time, I cannot bring myself to find this too much of a problem. For one, most of the energy of the film comes from Di Caprio’s infectious fun. He totally owns the role and has so much power and vitality into the performance that it truly does become a powerhouse display of his acting talents. Scorsese gives the actor room to breathe and improvise, doing his own thing. There are moments of random gestures that an actor can only come up with from being totally in a moment. While Di Caprio deserves praise for getting into that difficult mind-frame and coming up with these moments of brief genius, it is also testament to Scorsese, as a great director, that he is able to stand back and create a space where an actor has room to breathe and come up with these moments of greatness.
The greatest thing about Wolf of Wall Street is the slap in the face Scorsese gives us right at the end. We spend this entire movie loving Belfort. He is a despicable human being, making money with little thought to the lives he is destroying. Yet we are kept away from the damage he causes and Scorsese focuses on his fun lifestyle. The movie almost turns into a ‘MTV Cribs’, as we explore Belfort’s lifestyle and while we disagree with his pill-popping, prostitute-loving hobbies, this idea of being insanely rich and making your friends just as rich, is fun to watch. And then the movie hits the final twenty minutes kicks in and Scorsese shows us just how vile and disgusting a man Belfort really is. The humour disappears in a heartbeat. His actions are instantly shocking. We cannot believe we have spent a three hour movie loving this character. We begin to want him punished, but we could argue that he doesn’t get suitably penalised. Scorsese’s satire has actually been directed at us all along for celebrating these awful people as gods and celebrities and that was a tough message to swallow. A great sleight of hand by Martin Scorsese.
The Wolf of Wall Street does have a little too much fun. I was interested in Kyle Chandler’s FBI agent. I liked spending time with Belfort at his peak of power, but I wanted to see the downfall. I understand that Belfort’s main cause of failure was himself imploding under his addiction, riches and power, but I still think that the FBI storyline was harshly side-lined. Kyle Chandler felt miscast in the role. I am unsure if it’s the actor’s fault, but the character was hardly developed and we didn’t connect with him as a character. A stronger actor would have helped, hopefully doing a Matthew McConaughey and being amazing with a mere five minutes of screen time. I also felt that three hours was far too long to spend on this movie. While I loved most of the acting and direction, I was fed up by the end of this movie. There were moments that could have been very easily cut. Take Di Caprio’s speeches to his work force. The first was brilliant and it could have gone down as one of those great movie moments we will talk about when comparing Scorsese’s greatest works. However, it happens about three or four times in the whole movie, which dilutes the magic of the moment. Was it necessary? When you are looking at your watch two and a half hours in, you might begin to doubt it.
Final Verdict: Bloated running time aside, Wolf of Wall Street is a tremendous exercise in powerhouse directing and a performance that deserves a standing ovation.