There are two criticisms that I’ve seen repeatedly levelled at The Wolf Of Wall Street, the latest movie from Martin Scorsese that continues his successful working relationship with Leonardo DiCaprio. The first is that, at three hours, it’s just far too long. The second is that it glorifies the actions of the main characters. I’d like to start this review by discussing these points.
First, there are times when the film DOES feel as if it’s overstaying its welcome. That’s hard to deny. There are many scenes that could have been pared down, or even left out altogether. However, I do think that the bloated, excessive nature of the film completely matches the events onscreen, so while I do think that this is a slight mark against the movie, I also think that it’s an interesting way in which to make the whole thing entirely befitting to the main character, Jordan Belfort.
Second, I can only assume that people who think this movie glorifies the actions of the main characters were able to see some different cut from the movie that I saw. It’s pretty clear, within the first few minute of this movie, that Jordan Belfort is pretty much the devil. Even his acts of kindness throughout the movie come with a price, and end up improving his own lot as well as the lot of whomever he has decided to give assistance to.
There are other criticisms that have been appearing – Belfort profiting from the story being told, accusations of misogyny, disgust at cinemas being hired out by businessmen who view the film as some kind of celebration of their dream lifestyle, and more – but the truth is that almost every major criticism I’ve heard or read over the past few weeks has been less about the movie and more about the viewer. The film will divide audiences, mainly due to the editing and the stylistic choices that help to continually beat the viewer around the head with the tiring, consistent debauchery, but it’s a brilliant piece of work from a director who shows no sign of losing steam.
What’s the actual story? Well, it’s all about how Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio, onscreen for almost the entire movie and never delivering less than 120% in each scene) and his rise to greatness in the stockbroker world. That journey includes plenty of illegality, which gets him noticed by the FBI (and, in particular, an agent named Patrick Denham, played by Kyle Chandler), and Belfort has to make a decision to get out before he’s caught and taken to task for his crimes, or to start putting pieces into place for an escape plan. Well, someone with an ego like Belfort doesn’t usually choose to quit while ahead.
Although I’ve just praised DiCaprio, it’s worth praising him again. This IS the best performance that he’s given in the last decade. The fact that Belfort is such an evil asshole, and that DiCaprio still manages to make him likeable, is a major achievement in itself, but it’s also a pretty fearless performance, skipping with ease between moments of horror and moments of comedy, including one scene that is so funny I already think it may remain my favourite of the year. Jonah Hill also deserves praise for his supporting turn, playing a character who is easier to laugh at than Belfort, but ultimately even more of a cretin. Chandler doesn’t get half as much screentime, but he’s fantastic as the honourable agent looking to clean Wall Street, and there are enjoyable supporting turns from Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin, Matthew McConaughey, Joanna Lumley and P.J. Byrne. I’ve deliberately left the two main women in Belfort’s life until last, mainly because the female characters seem to be used by critics of the film as shining examples of all that is wrong with it. Well, Cristin Milioti is the sweetest character in the whole movie, barring the innocent children. She’s supportive, loving and adapts to the lifestyle that her husband dives into, head-first. Margot Robbie, also delivering a great performance, plays Belfort’s second wife – named Naomi in the movie – and is, arguably, the most interesting character in the movie. She chooses to turn a blind eye to a lot of things, as I saw it, but she still tries to make a marriage work within set rules that she defines. She has great power over Belfort, but that’s not always shown until she really has to put him in his place.
With almost every scene full of too much energy, too much going on in the frame, and too much that seems completely unbelievable, this is akin to being placed in a seat at the top table of some party being thrown by Caligula. It’s nauseating, it’s exhausting, and it’s often enough to make you feel very angry. It breaks any moral code, it breaches the standard boundaries of good taste, and it often breaks the fourth wall. Thankfully, all of those things help to make it an amazing piece of cinema.
DIRECTOR: MARTIN SCORSESE
WRITER: TERENCE WINTER (BASED ON THE BOOK BY JORDAN BELFORT)
STARS: LEONARDO DICAPRIO, JONAH HILL, MARGOT ROBBIE, KYLE CHANDLER, ROB REINER, JON BERNTHAL, JON FAVREAU, JEAN DUJARDIN, MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY, JOANNA LUMLEY, CRISTIN MILIOTI, P. J. BYRNE
RUNTIME: 180 MINS APPROX