The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writers: Terence Winter (screenplay), Jordan Belfort (book)
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler, Joanna Lumley.
Out now on DVD and Blu-ray.
179 minutes, Cert: 18
Any film made by Martin Scorsese is always worth seeing but how does his latest square up against his best work?
Unusually for me I’m going to start off this review with a warning about The Wolf Of Wall Street, nothing to do with the sequences of strong sexual content, the graphic nudity, the violence, the Mötley Crüe levels of drug use or the record breaking 500 plus expletives. I’m sure Louder Than War readers will easily be able to handle all that.
What I do want to point out though is this: the production company behind the film paid Jordan Belfort just over one million dollars to obtain the rights to his memoir which was then adapted by Terence Winter, the creator of Boardwalk Empire.
Today Belfort claims he lives with remorse for his wrongdoings and boasts that he’s not making a nickel off his story having signed over all proceeds and profits to the U.S. government, who ordered him to pay back over $110 million as compensation to the investors he fleeced.
The authorities, though, hold a very different viewpoint, accusing him of failing to turn over enough of his income and have asked the court to hold him in default.
Does he profit from his book, the cinema adaptation and his motivational speeches – which are becoming more and more popular due to the success of the film? All I’ll say is that if he’s anything like the Jordan Belfort portrayed by Scorsese then you might find it very difficult to believe a single word the real life Jordan Belfort utters.
I should also probably point out that some critics have complained that Belfort’s behaviour is glamourised by the film but surely, by just about any standards, Jordan Belfort will be seen as a truly repulsive human being by a huge majority of the people who watch The Wolf Of Wall Street.
True, Belfort doesn’t for example do anything as extreme as brutally beat a wiseguy almost to death before whacking him like Tommy and Jimmy do in Goodfella’ but his actions did likely have a negative impact on far more people’s lives than any out of control gangster in that film, which is, incidentally, the Scorsese movie that Wolf most resembles, albeit this is like Goodfellas meets Wall Street with some added National Lampoon style frat boy bacchanalia on the trading floor thrown in for good measure.
Admittedly Belfort is also very good looking and can certainly turn on the charisma when required, but he’s also shown to be an utterly immoral conman, a repugnant wife-beater and the sort of reckless douchebag of a father who’ll risk the life of his child by attempting to abduct her after a coke binge.
As with the aforementioned Goodfellas, we’re hurled almost immediately into the action with the speed of one of Belfort’s Ferrari Testarossas as it accelerates down the expressway.
“The year I turned 26, I made 49 million dollars as the head of my own brokerage firm,” he confides to us as he weaves through traffic in his fast car of choice. “Which really pissed me off because it was three shy of a million a week.”
This tells you almost everything you need to know about the man. No matter what he has, he always wants more. When he amasses the obscene wealth he’s always craved, he immediately craves even more obscene wealth. When he marries a beautiful ex-model trophy wife, he’ll be desperate to screw a hooker before the honeymoon is over. And as for drugs, well Jordan Belfort is most definitely a Wall Street high roller with the emphasis on high and happily confesses direct to camera that on a daily basis he takes “enough drugs to sedate Greater Long Island”.
That’ll be quaaludes for his back, Xanax to stay focused, Ambien to put him to sleep, pot to mellow out, cocaine to wake him up and morphine, as he puts it: “because it’s awesome.”
Yes, this is a man who is pretty much unapologetic about his excesses.
Greed is good, but for the Wolf, unrepentant and gargantuan greed is even better.
Again, some have criticized the fact that the film fails to show the victims of his crimes but hey, my advice to anybody who thinks that is this: use your imagination, this isn’t their story and, on balance, Scorsese was right not to slow down the drama and spell things out.
Just as Henry Hill in Goodfellas always wanted to be a gangster, Belfort always wanted to be rich. His chance comes when he begins a low level job at Wall Street firm L.F. Rothschild. This is the wolf as a wide eyed pup whose ambition takes a nosedive due to a little hiccup that became known as Black Monday.
His unemployment doesn’t last long though, and he lands a job for himself in a Long Island boiler room dealing in penny stocks, where, with that silver tongue of his, he’s soon taking in suckers with industrial strength bullshit and racking up a small fortune for himself in commissions.
Very quickly he’s able to make enough to set up his own business along with new best friend, Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), a goofball neighbour with bleached teeth and a fondness for crack cocaine. Next he brings on board an unlikely bunch of local schmucks, who can’t believe their luck when they discover that working for Belfort gives them the opportunity to coin in more from one single phone call than their small fry drug deals would earn them in a month.
Belfort christens the company with the grand name of Stratton Oakmont which he likes to market with words like integrity and stability but which in reality specialises in a scam known as “pump and dump”.
The movie might last three hours give or take a minute but the pace seldom sags and it’s incredible to think that its director is now into his fifth decade of directing feature films.
He’s as inventive as ever here and gives us some stunning set pieces throughout, such as when the Belforts’ luxury yacht sails through some chop and a fascinating scene on that same (anchored) yacht where Belfort’s nemesis, FBI agent Patrick Denham and a colleague step aboard to be greeted by Belfort and two high class escorts, Belfort flaunting his newly installed Bell Jet helicopter at the yacht’s stern and coming out with an obviously rehearsed spiel that contrasts the lavishness of his lifestyle with the overworked and underpaid careers of firefighters, teachers and even FBI agents before hinting at a possible bribe.
Some of the verbal sparring here almost matches the famous first on screen meeting between Pacino and DeNiro in Heat but even more impressive is the sequence where Belfort is spectacularly floored by the delayed action of some vintage Lemmon 714 quaaludes.
The film really does belong to DiCaprio, and his howlingly comic turn in these scenes shows what a superb physical actor he can be – the best comparison might be with someone like Harold Lloyd from the silent era.
This is not only DiCaprio’s best collaboration with Scorsese but a career best performance. It’s also Scorsese’s funniest since The King of Comedy and is exactly the kind of movie that the director tends to excel with: the rise and fall of a very flawed individual but with potential perhaps for some kind of redemption afterwards, however unlikely this might strike us. I’d rate it his finest film since The Departed and possibly even since Casino.
Saying that, it’s far from flawless. At least one of Belfort’s speeches designed to rally his adoring battalion of brokers could have been cut, while one boardroom scene where the practicalities of hiring dwarves for the purpose of being thrown at target boards strays into unfunny caricature. By Scorsese standards too, the soundtrack is something of a disappointment but, as a whole, The Wolf of Wall Street is easily one of the most entertaining American movies of recent years.
None on the DVD which is especially disappointing after the rumour that Scorsese’s first four hour cut was to be included.
All words by Jamie Havlin. More writing by Jamie on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.