Review – The Wolf Of Wall Street

The ugly reality of what constitutes the modern day American Dream is writ large over Martin Scorsese’s outrageous and intelligent trawl through the moral sewer of a world fuelled by power, prostitutes and pesos.

Far from slowing down in his autumn years, Scorsese's The Wolf Of Wall Street finds the director back at his very best.

Far from slowing down in his autumn years, Scorsese’s The Wolf Of Wall Street finds the director back at his very best.

The Wolf Of Wall Street begins with an advert for Jordan Belfort’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) church of capitalism, Stratton Oakmont, espousing the firm’s “stability” and “integrity”, before cutting to its “trained professionals” betting huge sums of money on a dwarf throwing contest.

It’s none-too-subtle – like much of the film – but this observation of the unbridled hypocrisy and moral vacuum at the black heart of Belfort and his army of disciples runs through the core of Scorsese’s exhilarating and exhausting 22nd feature.

Jordan (Leonardo DiCaprio) gets taken under the wing of sulphurous boss Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) in The Wolf Of Wall Street

Jordan (Leonardo DiCaprio) gets taken under the wing of sulphurous boss Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) in The Wolf Of Wall Street

Scorsese revisits the dwarf tossing scene later in the film when Belfort, his best friend and Vice President Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), and a couple of other senior traders discuss how best to exploit the dwarf and agree not to “consider him a human”. It’s a cleverly symbolic moment – we are the ‘little people’ being taken advantage of by these monsters for financial gain and their own amusement.

These guys know they’re crooks but are having too much fun in their grotesque bubble to care. When a potential client remarks over the phone that Belfort seems like “a pretty sincere guy”, his team collapse into howls of laughter; while Belfort literally and figuratively ‘closes the deal’ by simulating having sex as he makes the sale.

Naomi (Margot Robbie), Jordan's trophy wife in The Wolf Of Wall Street

Naomi (Margot Robbie), Jordan’s trophy wife in The Wolf Of Wall Street

Told through Belfort’s unreliable eyes, we follow him from his wet-behind-the-ears early days through to his rebirth following the Wall Street crash of 1987 to become a wildly successful stockbroker making money hand over fist by selling worthless stocks to unwitting schumcks who have bought into the get rich quick mantra peddled to them by the ‘free’ market.

Belfort’s success leads to the creation of Stratton Oakmont, a boiler room where illegal activity and corruption go hand in hand with opprobrious excess and decadence on a scale that would make Caligula blush.

The best of times... stockbroker-turned-rock star Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) in The Wolf Of Wall Street

The best of times… stockbroker-turned-rock star Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) in The Wolf Of Wall Street

It’s easy to get blindsided by the film’s numerous scenes of drug taking, orgiastic partying and general debauchery, but those who claim the director gives Belfort a pass are completely missing the point of The Wolf Of Wall Street. It is politicians, the legal system and society in general who let – and continue to let – snake oil salesmen like Belfort off the hook by allowing ourselves to be seduced by empty promises of riches beyond the dreams of avarice.

A key scene takes place towards the start of the film involving Matthew McConaughey’s obscenely immoral broker Mark Hanna taking a young Belfort out to lunch to explain to him – and us  – that the name of the game is to “move the money from your client’s pocket into your pocket” and to “keep the clients on the ferris wheel and keep the park open 24/7/365″.

The worst of times... the wheels start coming off for Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) and partner-in-crime Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) in The Wolf Of Wall Street

The worst of times… the wheels start coming off for Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) and partner-in-crime Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) in The Wolf Of Wall Street

As appalling as Hanna’s pep talk is, we laugh in spite of ourselves, thanks in no small part to McConaughey’s inspired cameo. A similar reaction is had throughout what is at times a laugh-out-loud comedy. Belfort lives and breathes the words Hanna has taught him, which makes for numerous scenes of ridiculous comedy, most notably when he’s almost paralysed by an particularly strong batch of Quaaludes.

Based on Belfort’s book of the same name, the film follows in the ‘visual novel’ footsteps of Scorsese’s Goodfellas and Casino by relying heavily on narration to tell the tale. Just as Ray Liotta’s delivery sucked us in to a tale of New York gangsters, so too does DiCaprio, who builds an irresistible rapport with the audience through a mix of buddy-buddy repartee and matter-of-fact exposition.

FBI Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) investigates Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) in The Wolf Of Wall Street

FBI Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) investigates Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) in The Wolf Of Wall Street

It’s an electric performance from DiCaprio, arguably the highlight of his career and certainly his best under Scorsese’s mentorship. The over-the-top banter with his besotted staff and explosive physicality may be what grabs the headlines, but his more nuanced work, particularly opposite trophy wife Naomi (Margot Robbie) and FBI agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) are what sets the performance apart. DiCaprio is lent excellent support from all quarters, especially Robbie and a never-better Hill.

As you’d expect from a Scorsese picture, the needle-drop soundtrack is a music lover’s delight (although Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter is notable by its absence), while Terrence Winter’s volcanic script justifies the film’s three-hour running time.

Far from slowing down in his autumn years, Scorsese’s The Wolf Of Wall Street finds the director back at his very best.

27 comments

  1. ckckred

    Nice review and I agree. I’ve seen it twice and it improved even more a second time. DiCaprio and Hill were in excellent form and Robbie was also great.

    • Three Rows Back

      DiCaprio’s performance will stick long in the memory; it’s absolutely fantastic. It’s a film of great performances really. I might find some proper faults with it on greater reflection, but right now I’ve gotta say I had a blast. Thanks for the kind words :)

  2. Tom

    Yes!!!!! Glad to see you took away from it what I did. I read, I do believe on Pigeon Coop, the exact thought I had about the genius in Scorsese’s lack of judgment towards the evil deeds on display: what he’s really doing is setting the utensils on the table and allowing us to use them and judge the people gathered around it at our will and desire. The sex and drugs and rock and roll and all of that surely ain’t good, but it sure is fun to watch!!

    This review on the other hand, deftly condenses everything I thought about it. Well done, sir.

    • Three Rows Back

      Thank you so much Tom! “What he’s really doing is setting the utensils on the table and allowing us to use them and judge the people gathered around it at our will and desire” – that, sir, is as smartly succinct a summation as one could wish for. Well done to you!

    • Three Rows Back

      Very pleased that we’re on the same page! I had a blast with it I won’t lie. It’s probably not the best of 2013 for me (that would still be 12 Years a Slave in my book), but it’s right up there.

  3. CMrok93

    Good review. May have been quite a long one, but still kept me entertained and smiling the whole way through. Even during its most dirty, ostentatious moments.

  4. The Northern Plights

    Okey doke! Acting amazing and script pin-point perfect and punchyb but Scorsese’s directing was formulaic to the extreme – this was just a remake of Goodfellas with a soupcon of Casino. Obviously written/directed to appeal to the one-time Alpha Male teenager to the now-time Alpha Male wannabe. I swear that you can hear DiCaprio coming over all ‘Ray Liotta’ during the scene where the dream tumbles…it was painful at times: “Donnie’s ma did the best tomata sauce….sorry, cut, did I say tomata sauce, Marti? I meant to say ‘chowder’.

    Lots of pretty women though, right? Martin Scorcese, the film buff’s Benny Hill.

    • Marissa Celinetti

      Nope, I wouldn’t recommend the film to anyone. The wolf of wall street is bad. Not because it’s provocative but because it’s disgusting and offensive for no reason. Its misogyny is not an exposure or a critique, it’s a display. The message it pretends to be sending is just an excuse for the provocation that will guarantee some eyeballs, it doesn’t really criticize what it is portraying in any meaningful way nor does it expose how harmful it is to the women surrounding its ahole protagonist, who is the only one that matters and the consequences for him are the only consequences that matter. All that stays with you are the images of women used as objects, like in porn and this guy having a good time until he is not. They simply make sure that the film leaves an impression to boost its oscar chances even if that impression is through meaningless, misogynistic, degrading imagery and language. Bothering to critique or expose the injustice of things must be too much for the dumb audience they assume they have I guess

  5. Writer Loves Movies

    Nice review. Some fantastic performances here – DiCaprio, Hill, McConaughey and Kyle Chandler all stood out. An intelligent script from Terence Winter too. Interested to see how things pan out at the Oscars.

    • Three Rows Back

      Thank you muchly. Well, I wouldn’t describe it how your friend did. For starters I think Casino is a great film in its own right. This certainly has a lot of similarities to those two films, but it stands up against them also.

  6. Dan

    Love your point about discussing the exploitation of the dwarf and not considering him a human – “It’s a cleverly symbolic moment – we are the ‘little people’ being taken advantage of by these monsters for financial gain and their own amusement.” – so true!

    I agree with you that Scorsese is showing few signs that he’s lost any ability as the years get the better of him. This is one of his best films, no doubt.

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