Sunday, 19 January 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street

Bombastic, bold and ballsy - this is not for the faint-hearted. Sporting a well-deserved 18 Certificate this shies away from none of the excesses in the story of stockbroker Jordan Belfort. Sex and drugs sit at the forefront in this tale of corporate crime. Hallelujah! In an era dominated by films marketed to children, films based on toys, and dilution of content to be granted wimpy 12A/PG13 Certificates, we've got a large-scale ($100 million-budgeted) film for grown-ups on our hands. And the great thing is, it's doing really well at the box office. (It sailed past $120 million very early on and is yet to open in a large number of territories.)

Young buck Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) joins a large Wall Street firm in 1987. Mentored by boss Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) he's encouraged to embrace the superabundance involved in stockbroking - namely sex and drugs. Before Belfort can make an impression Black Monday strikes and he loses his job. He then works in a Long Island boiler room selling 'penny stocks' - shares for smaller companies but involving a far-heftier percentage for the broker. Making serious inroads he uses this model to take things into the bigger leagues and forms the deceptively-legit-sounding firm of Stratton Oakmont, fronted by a team of oddball buddies. They go on to make obscene amounts of money but not without drawing attention to the FBI.

You know in Goodfellas when Henry Hill breaks the fourth wall and starts talking to camera at the end? Well, this picks up where that left off - Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) starts rabbiting at us, the viewer, very early on in a similar vein. On paper, I'd say that would have looked like a very bad idea but Scorsese smashes it out of the park. The effect is hypnotic and works brilliantly. Belfort's voice-over leads us through the entire film, making us - the audience - less observer more participant in the mayhem that ensues.

Though tense and taught, the film is incredibly funny. It is spectacularly un-PC and therein lies much of the comicality. While Scorsese may never have made an all-out comedy he has a strong history of weaving drollery into the dramatic. And here, he turns things up to 11. A scene involving Quaalude-overload is uproarious, with DiCaprio delivering a breath-taking performance of physical comedy.

In the on-going, phoenix-like 'McConnaissance' Matthew McConaughey makes a big impression in a small role. He displays a great knack for comedy and it's startling - what with his bona fide movie star charisma - that he owns this part of a character actor. It makes me eagerly anticipate every single one of his future roles. Jonah Hill completely inhabits the portrayal of a reprobate, bottom-feeder. He really does act, without relying on any of his funny guy schtick (of which, it should be noted, I'm also a big fan). Not sure he'll actually win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar but it's a well-deserved nomination. Respect to the Academy for paying attention. Margot Robbie supplies a huge whallop of sex appeal and proves herself deft at the drama. She’s one to watch.

The film has received more than a few accusations of glorifying this solid gold world. DiCaprio has, quite rightly, described the film as a "cautionary tale". Not once did I want to be any single one of these people or have any of their lives. They are shown up, throughout, to be vile, pernicious, money-grubbing scum. In short, a bunch of dickheads who get what’s coming to them.

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