Anyone who is familiar with this site will be aware of my cinematic penchant for the seedier, quirkier, more exploitative style of film that has recently been displayed in pictures such as The Paperboy and Lovelace. I take great interest in and find myself captivated by aspects and situations of human life that I am far removed from and can experience in the safety and comfort of a movie theatre. If I were to attempt to trace back through my film viewing history in an attempt to discover the origin of this preference for sleaze, I would not be surprised to see the name of Martin Scorsese at the top of the list. Perhaps peculiarly, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas and Casino were all pictures that I had seen and fallen in love with before the age of twelve, and therefore it was with great anticipation and expectation that I entered the cinema to watch Scorsese’s latest work, The Wolf Of Wall Street.
The Wolf Of Wall Street is a black comedy/drama based on the real life of New York stockbroker Jordan Belfort and his well documented rise and fall in the world of share selling and fraudulent practices. The film contains a number of characteristics that are universally recognised as part of the gangster genre, particularly in its criminal activity, in its aesthetic look and in its use of vulgar dialogue, much being made of its accolade for most uses of the word ‘fuck’ in a motion picture to date. Where the viewing experience begins to become jarring, though, is in the films almost complete lack of strong violence. The illegal activity conducted in The Wolf Of Wall Street is not activity that the audience is familiar with, nor is it activity that creates a particularly exciting and gripping narrative to watch. Scorsese recognises this problem, and solves it by skipping over most of the actual stockbroking and skipping straight to the vice ridden existences that the endless stream of money provides for the characters in the story. Some have criticised the film for appearing to seemingly glorify the extravagant and relentless drug, sex and money fuelled life styles that are portrayed on screen. The simple fact is, that a lot of people across the world indulge in heavy narcotic use without their lives turning in to scenes straight out of Requiem For A Dream. Whether society is willing to accept it or not, taking drugs and sleeping with high end prostitutes can actually be a fun time, and for a significant portion of The Wolf Of Wall Street, it is shown to be just that. I firmly believe that motion pictures do not always have to convey a positive moral message for their audience, and the fact that there is little moral guidance here from the director is testament to his cinematic history of refusing to sugar coat his more mature work.
This is not to say, however, that the film is completely without balance in terms of portraying the vulgarity and at times horrific nature of such a lifestyle. There are more than enough instances, in my opinion, in which the audience are shown that a person afflicted with substance addiction or morally tainted by extreme wealth is not someone to aspire to be. One feels very removed from the film in the sense that it is virtually impossible to become attached to any character within the narrative, it being filled with a group of the most unsympathetic, unlikable people in recent cinematic memory. Belfort’s transition from young, impressionable and aspiring stockbroker to drug fuelled, sex crazed, fraudulent Wall Street tycoon is achieved with way too little apprehension for the audience to sympathise with him as the plot progresses, and the same can be said for pretty much every other character in the picture.
Excess is most definitely the key word when it comes to The Wolf Of Wall Street. In a similar fashion to American Hustle, absolutely everything from the pace of the film to the speed of the dialogue to the actor’s characterisations is turned up to eleven. Major credit must be given to Leonardo DiCaprio for making such a debased and unrelatable character as Jordan Belfort immensely watchable. His performance is smug, captivating, powerful and unapologetic, the achievement of an actor who has complete control of his talents and is not afraid to push the boundaries of his comfort on screen, being involved in a number of highly sexual and gratuitous scenes. The film features a strong and diverse supporting cast including Jonah Hill in a performance unlike any he has given previously as Belfort’s business partner Donnie, and relative newcomer Margot Robbie as Belfort’s wife Naomi, who whilst being perhaps the most sympathetic and relatable character in the film, happily profits from and indulges in the life style and wealth that is generated by her husband’s activities.
The word excess can also be used, however, in a less than positive light with regard to the film. At a minute under the three hour mark, the picture is Martin Scorsese’s longest feature film to date, and one might argue that this is unnecessarily long. Admittedly, there are many scenes in the film that begin to feel incredibly similar to the viewer like the steady flow of set pieces that take place in the hectic offices of the stock exchanges. Equally prolonged are a number of sequences of dialogue that one feels could have been more definitively treated by the director and editors. One wonders whether this extended and drawn-out approach was a matter of overindulgence on Scorsese’s part, or a more symbolic attempt to emphasise the true excess of the narrative by incorporating a running time that, like the contents of the film, is turned up to eleven. Either way, the break neck pace of the film somewhat eases its total length, as you rarely feel as though the plot is treading water.
Overall, the universe depicted within The Wolf Of Wall Street is one that I feel I would never have the nerve, stamina or immorality to be a part of, but for three hours I found a pleasantly morbid fascination in watching it all unfold. I advise any potential viewers to sit back and embrace the sordid content of the picture, being entertained by sex, drugs, rock and roll and a whole heap of cash isn’t going to make you a horrible person. Let the film be a brief journey in to the craziness of a society completely without morals, perhaps best summed up by a quote from the picture itself, “it was insane in the normal world, but who the fuck wanted to live there?”.