Arts Review, Movies

The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street featured image

Martin Scorsese, director

Terence Winter, script based on the memoir by Jordan Belfort

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio (Jordan Belfort), Jonah Hill (Donnie Azoff), Matthew McConaughey (Mark Hannah), Jean Dujardin (Jean-Jacques Saure), Margot Robbie (Naomi), Kyle Chandler (Agent Greg Coleman), Rob Reiner (Max Belfort), Jon Favreau (Lee Sorkin), Jon Bernthal (Brad Bodnick), Cristin Mlioti (Teresa), Joanna Lumley (Aunt Emma), Spike Jonze (Dwayne), Christine Ebersole (Leah Belfort)

The buzz

The fifth film directed by Martin Scorsese starring Leonardo DiCaprio was bound to create massive interest. Could they top The Aviator, The Gangs of New York, The Departed and Shutter Island? Would they be nominated for Oscars or was this one trip too many?

The genres

Capitalism and the American Dream: a harsh take; bio-pic of a deranged stock broker; gangster movie without gangsters

The premise

Jordan Belfort parlayed a motivational speaker’s style, ruthless ambition and a manipulative nature into a breathtakingly successful career as a stockbroker. His company Stratton Oakmont defrauded investors, selling them essentially worthless penny (and some bogus blue chip) stock. At the height of his scandalous career, Belfort’s company was worth $1 billion. It all unraveled as the Securities Exchange Commission and the FBI collaborated to indict Belfort (and eventually many of his cronies) with charges of fraud and money laundering.

This is the backdrop for Scorsese’s film, which is never about the victims of Belfort’s stock market scams. The Wolf of Wall Street concentrates on Belfort (DiCaprio) and his gang of thieves– particularly Donnie Azoff (Hill)–who ape his every move and become highly successful manipulators of people—and the stock exchange.

The film relishes in Belfort’s excesses, including drug taking (quaaludes, cocaine, crack), employing of prostitutes and crazy partying involving dwarves, naked marching bands and out-of-control uses of bodily functions. Belfort discards his first beautiful wife, a brunette (Teresa) for an even more spectacular blonde (Naomi). He buys mansions, yachts and sports cars. And he never regrets anything–even when his lifestyle collapses in front of him.

The performances

DiCaprio gives a towering performance as Belfort. His speeches to the Stratton Oakmont team are outrageous and totally watchable. Hill is excellent as his sidekick and newcomer Margot Robbie is fine as his second wife. But this is such a crazy, almost operatic film, that it’s hard to judge what any of the actors are doing. Over acting is the norm in The Wolf of Wall Street.

Martin Scorsese and Terence Winter

Director Scorsese and scriptwriter Winter have combined forces to make Boardwalk Empire a TV hit so it’s natural for them to work together on a film. They’re extremely talented: Winter wrote many episodes of The Sopranos and Scorsese is a living legend—the director of Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Casino, Raging Bull, etc, etc.

The duo employ Scorsese’s classic style—using voice-over and scenes of violence and debauchery as well as the occasional character building dramatic moment to build up a story.

It’s compelling stuff, as always. But…

The skinny

The Wolf of Wall Street is a big, fat, astonishing failure of a film. You’re never bored but you learn very little about capitalism, the stock market or what makes most of the characters tick (apart from Belfort). The film feels unreal. Three hours of excessive fun stops being interested or even diverting. If Scorsese and Winter intended the audience to become disillusioned with capitalism, perhaps they’ve succeeded.

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