The Wolf of Wall Street – 2013

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One year ago today I decided that I was going to start a blog so that, if nothing else, I could review every Oscar-nominated film I saw before the 2013 award ceremony. Well, Oscar season is in full swing once again and today’s offering was Martin Scorsese’s newest film The Wolf of Wall Street. Scorsese is no stranger to Oscar nominations. Even Hugo, which was met with lukewarm acclaim, won five of the awards in 2012. The Wolf of Wall Street is based on a true story of greed and excess in Wall Street. It’s not exactly ground-breaking stuff. We’ve seen enough of this in the news in the past few years for the dealing room parties and drug-fuelled sex to not really be very shocking.

With greed and excess as the defining theme there’s not very far to go for The Wolf of Wall Street. DiCaprio gives another accomplished performance as Jordan Belfort, the stockbroking millionaire in question, complete with a roguish narration, often directly to the audience. He’s selling his life story to the audience, just as he sells stocks and, just as the real Jordan Belfort who’s laughing all the way to the bank, having sold the rights to his memoirs to Martin Scorsese.

If anything, The Wolf of Wall Street reminded me of Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Don Jon earlier this year, just replacing porn with money. Scorsese, despite accusations of romanticising the events, is just as moralising in his direction. He paints Belfort as a thoroughly selfish and unpleasant individual, a woman beater, a disappointment to his father, a negligent father and a raving drug addict. Had Scorsese wanted to promote this behaviour he wouldn’t be superciliously portraying the traders as apes and cavemen: they even beat their chests in a tribal bonding ritual to reassert their manliness (they needed reassurance after snorting cocaine off hookers). Yes, there was greed, excess and debauchery in the business. We know that. Just showing us that once there was a corrupt stockbroker in New York is not an interesting enough story.

It’s undeniable that DiCaprio owns this film, it circles around him, he oozes charisma and power at every turn and he barely leaves the screen. The characters around him are somewhat interchangeable, expendable even, with the exception of Donnie (Jonah Hill) and Naomi, his wife (Margot Robbie). As the best friend and wife of Belfort they counteract his greed and lust, a little. They serve as a barometer, as Belfort gets greedier and greedier his treatment of the two people closest to him becomes worse and worse. Jonah Hill seems to be playing to type but does a great job as the right-hand man of a character wealthier, more successful and more charming than he is. Where Belfort revels in the wealth he thinks he deserves, Donnie is never far behind being surprised that he got this far and meekly accepting second place. It’s a very interesting dynamic which comes to a head when Donnie’s jealousy finally gets the better of him. It’s an understated moment, when he finally throws caution to the wind to grab wealth for himself, but one of the more powerful ones in the film. In fact, the film is littered with small moments of brilliance, be they funny or unexpectedly poignant. Unfortunately they get drowned in the mire of unnecessary footage.

The Wolf of Wall Street is overstuffed. It’s not boring but it’s just overwhelmingly empty for a three hour film. The messages are received and understood within the first ten minutes and it doesn’t take the ideas very far from their origins. There’s nothing daring or surprising in the film, it’s very easy to consume and while it may be DiCaprio’s long-awaited call to the Oscar arena but it may well fade into obscurity once the buzz dies down.

  • Entertainment: 3/5
  • Artistic:              3/5
  • Intellectual:       2/5

May there be another year’s worth of films for me to write about.

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