The Wolf Of Wall Street is a return to form for Martin Scorsese, not that his previous effort, Hugo, was in any way a disappoint. It’s the kind of movie that presses itself down on its viewers without causing any serious physical or psychological harm. The characters are so mischievous, so deluded, and so downright jovial that their ill-manner washes right over our heads and disappears into the back rows.
The plot is not all that different from Goodfellas or Casino. Obnoxious small town aspirer climbs the illegal ladder to riches only to have everything crumble to ruin at the end, usually because someone on his team accidentally whacks the ball into the other team’s court. And usually this other team consists of federal agents. Wolf gives us a good one: Agent Denham (Kyle Chandler). We don’t see very much of him, but the times we do see him he gives us good reason to, for once, cheer on the law. There’s a superbly played out scene aboard a yacht that involves sarcastic banter between Denham and his suspect, Jordan Belfort. I shall not give anything away, but observe the power of the dialogue, the crispness of the acting, the smiles and politeness. It’s all a front. But we’d never guess it. By the end of the scene, we are wanting one of the men to go down with the ship.
So, Jordan Belfort. He’s the guy we follow from beginning to end. Played by Leonardo DiCaprio with an infinite heart of joy, he finds his way into the stockbroking business and quickly rises the ranks by skimming ridiculous commissions off unsuspecting clients seeking to invest in small-time — sometimes non-existent — companies. In 5 years he becomes a multimillionaire. He buys the yacht for his second wife Naomi (Margot Robbie in sensationally attractive form, minus the Brooklyn accent); he erects the stockbroker’s equivalent of Hearst Castle; he surrounds himself with fancy sports cars; and most of all, he keeps an endless stream of drugs and hookers flowing straight into his mouth and pants. How he manages to keep his sexual escapades a secret for so long is a skill worth putting up for sale (not that anyone would buy it).
His partner in crime is Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), whose last name sounds like an insult hurled while high on cocaine. He joins Jordan right from the beginning and evolves into that Joe Pesci type character who thinks he’s tougher than he really is. Together they build Stratton Oakmont, an investment company that operates like an evangelical church whose god descends in the physical forms of drugs, prostitutes, and money. It is a madhouse. Jordan stands at the front, on a kind of stage, and pumps his staff up with quotes and speeches that’d seem readily available for purchase at the church’s entrance. After he gets his team riled up, he strolls amidst them like Moses through the Red Sea. If I hadn’t known better I’d have thought that Jordan gave birth to those people.
A lot happens in this movie — it spans a good 179 minutes — so I don’t think it’d be prudent to go over what happens every half hour or so. What I can settle on is the fact that for a 179-minute film, Wolf zips by surprisingly quickly. It’s got good tempo. Good rhythm. The story is long, yes, but because it is so well written it leads into the next scene with drive and purpose. We are not left questioning the reason for a scene’s existence. We accept it as another cog in the narrative machine. And on that level alone, Wolf is a spectacular effort.
Alas, it is not perfect. While I commend Scorsese for returning to the genre he built his later career on, I cannot help but feel a little cheated by his lack of innovation. Too many times during this movie I was reminded of Goodfellas and Casino, which, by default, isn’t a bad thing. But once the movie was over I started to realise that character and career aside, there is nothing all that different about the three films. Wolf never strives to be anything bigger or smarter than its predecessors. It gives us much of the same, and much of that muchness. There’s too much drugs, too much sex, too much obnoxious behaviour. I’ve come to expect this from Scorsese, but when the vices creep up on the story and the depth of the people involved, I begin to question the movie’s position as an integral effort. Still, you should see this picture, especially if you were disappointed by Hugo.
Best Moment | Seeing Naomi slide open those french doors. My oh my.
Worst Moment | Nope.