That ever-persistent joke about Leonardo DiCaprio having as much Oscar success as the rest of us scums of the Earth would need a serious rethink soon as The Wolf of Wall Street just might change all of that. And we’d all have to come up with a new whipping boy to make us all feel better about ourselves. Good for DiCaprio, whose acting filmography isn’t tainted by an atrociously bad performance at all, not by any mile, mesmerising and brilliant in every turn, from the early years of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? right to his recent work in The Departed, Revolutionary Road and Django Unchained. His soulful portrayal of Jay Gatsby last year was the sole redeeming factor of Baz Lhurmann’s The Great Gatsby. Now, his team-up with perpetual collaborator Martin Scorcese has produced stock magnate-cum-debauchee Jordan Belfort onscreen, and without an iota of doubt, it will go down as one of DiCaprio’s finest moments in his entire career. Here, he turns in an unforgettably unhinged and deliriously lunatic performance as the eponymous wolf during the 1990’s New York stock market scene, careering from one sequence to the next with such near-maniacal relish that you’d be hard pressed to think of any other actor with such comic and dramatic calibre who would nail a man as oleaginous as Belfort. Especially a man whose profligate antics belong to Caligula-level proportions, whose daily life routine includes cocaine-fuelled parties, trading-floor orgies, yacht excursions and quaalude (mis)adventures, to name a few.
It’s a massive shame, then, that much of the film’s discussion is centred around the ‘immorality’ of Berfort and co’s actions rather than the sheer virtuoso direction of Martin Scorcese, who hasn’t produced a film as energetic and insanely enjoyable as this for quite some time (bar Shutter Island, which was expertly made yet a conspicuous downer). Some
cunts cinematically inept viewers have immediately branded The Wolf of Wall Street as a glorification of Belfort’s lifestyle, shocking to its core mainly due to the fact that Scorcese refuses to hold moral judgements. Hearing things like this make you want to find the nearest brick wall and smash your head in. This is cinema, love. Not your local church pulpit. The medium has far more responsibility in exploring the vast grey areas of our human ‘moralities’ rather than painting everything in binary black-and-white colours.
Belfort’s antics are revolting and off-putting, and Scorcese’s depiction advocates the man as much as Brian De Palma promotes Tony Montana wielding an AK-47 in Scarface as a saint. Only a legitimate buffoon would seriously consider Belfort snorting coke from a prostitute’s butthole ‘cool’, or Belfort epically doped up with quaalude, crawling to his white Lamborghini Countach and trashing it into pulp as ‘pretty awesome’. Hence Scorcese adopting a satirical tone to the proceedings, mirroring how these capitalist pigs would treat greed, excess and drug addiction as one big package of pure juvenile joke. Just because we’re laughing at something onscreen doesn’t mean we’ll somehow re-enact it in real life.
That all said – when at its finest, The Wolf of Wall Street is hugely hilarious in a grossly tasteless way, as if Scorcese buddied-up with Judd Apatow and threw a party for monied monkeys. There’s a sense of youthful verve in Scorcese’s direction in the first hour that he hasn’t really indulged in since the early days of GoodFellas and Casino, two films which crucially inform, if not cast a long shadow over, Wolf. But as soon as the drug-addled and booze-filled parties become a loop and got repetitive, the film shows some signs of weariness, extending some scenes to unnecessary lengths. In charting Belfort’s extremely depraved life for three-hours, it’s inevitable that some chunks of running-time become superfluous, including Scorcese’s decision to resort to CGI during a Mediterranean sea-storm when moments like this can be cut out and make the entire show tauter. Moments like this prevent Wolf from truly achieving veritable greatness – but who are we exactly to judge when all our hot, airy critical words have nothing to compare against a director who has thirty-years-or-so experience of creating art in the business of filmmaking?
DIRECTOR: Martin Scorcese | CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler | SCREENPLAY: Terence Winter | DISTRIBUTOR: Universal Pictures | RUNNING-TIME: 180 mins | GENRE: Crime/Drama | COUNTRY: USA