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The Wolf of Wall Street

October 15, 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Actors: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie

wolf-of-wall-street-leonardo-dicaprio.jpg (300×186)

Synopsis: Stockbroker Jordan Belfort (Leonard DiCaprio) builds up an estimable fortune in the Eighties and Nineties, but the hedonism and loose morals of his ways threatens to catch up with him…

Review: The Wolf of Wall Street is a quite staggering piece of relentless, indefatigable cinematic invention, and is testament to the sheer energy (as well as the more cerebral qualities) of Martin Scorsese and Leonard DiCaprio as storytellers.

I know the film has generated many column inches from what are (in my opinion) misappropriated criticisms whereby Scorsese is somehow accused of condoning Jordan Belfort’s grotesque, hedonistic form of Capitalism. That reading has two fundamental flaws; first, it confuses mere documentation with subjectivity (in this case, condoning), and in many respects, the film reveals just how seasoned and respectful a storyteller Scorsese is. He’s not rubbing our faces in the obvious moral to the story (besides the one end sequence where Belfort’s prosecuting cop has a quietly victorious ride in the subway), as he’d be justified in hoping his audience has the intelligence to apply the subtext anyway. It would be a far worse film tonally and dramatically if Scorsese watered down the excesses of Belfort’s lifestyle and practices (and the verve with which he depicts that), by putting in inorganic, morally equivalent references to ‘victims’ of Belfort’s economics. And finally, the film is art, a ‘treatment’, a good few removes from reality in its characterisation of Belfort and his ethos as one-long nutty, vacuous, chemically-fuelled surge of excess – that’s the only obligation Scorsese has, to commit to the telling of that story.

Of course, it helps that the film in question is just plain brilliant. It almost felt like a blast of old Scorsese, not the establishment pro who has turned in brilliant (if increasingly, workmanlike) pictures in recent years, but the man who almost had copyright on that genre of rich, dense, characterful ‘corruption’ epics that he gave life to some twenty years before with the likes of GoodFellas and Casino. It’s evidence of a filmmaker at the top of his game – the story never lets up at any point, the necessary relentless correlative of narcotic mania from filmmaker to character is sustained the whole way through, and Scorsese is ever inventive (we get the familiar ‘ironic’ narration, there’s plenty of shifts in chronology, some of the scenes are filmed in quasi-screwball, comic style, and there are lots of devices like films-within-films and infomercials merging with the actual storyline). It’s all hugely enjoyable, it’s one of the great Hollywood critiques of Capitalism, and an unqualified triumph for Scorsese and an electric Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role. (October 2014)

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