The Wolf Of Wall Street (2014) – Review

“I want you all to solve your problems by getting RICH!”. Howled into the microphone by Leo before an office full of his animalistic employees, this line neatly encapsulates Jordan Belfort’s fascinating yet abhorrent story of wealth, women and material possessions. That’s just one example in 180 minutes of the level of greed and lust coursing through these characters as they throw raucous parties, hold orgies in the office and generally get up to no good while conning people into throwing their money at them. The level of unprofessionalism on display makes Belfort’s story genuinely hard to believe at times. Could they really have been so irresponsible? So careless? So incredibly arrogant? Apparently, absolutely so.

The Wolf Of Wall Street finally roars into UK cinemas fresh off of five Oscar nods for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenpla. While the likelihood of it winning them all is slim, frankly, it’s good for every one of the nominations. If I were to choose one winner out of the five, I’d go for DiCaprio for best actor. Even without the appalling omission of Tom Hanks, the statue is probably going to Chiwetel Ejiofor for 12 Years A Slave, but as terrific as he is in that film, Leo is equally terrific as the titular wolf in Scorsese’s rambunctious biopic – plus he has the added impetus of desperately deserving one for being pretty much perfect in every role he’s ever played.

The quality of DiCaprio in Wolf stems at least partly from his intimate understanding with his director. The pair have worked together five times now, with each film arguably even better than the last (although I still think The Departed is the most brilliant piece of work), and there’s grown to be a blatant understanding between the two. He’s boisterous and off the hook just enough not to become a caricature, yet during early proceedings when he’s a mere cub, he doesn’t overplay the naivety.

Throughout every step of the journey he completely convinces us that he is Jordan Belfort; that he really doesn’t care about anyone but himself and that he really is addicted to every drug on the market.  One of the funniest moments is when he’s suddenly hit with the biggest high of his life and, being unable to even walk, creates “cerebral palsy” look.  As he excruciatingly drags himself outside, rolls down the steps and edges towards his car, we can’t help but giggle uncontrollably and marvel at the brilliance of DiCaprio’s performance – yet it’s equally horrendous when we remember this actually happened, that everything in Belfort’s story is true.

It’s also curious how seemingly kind the film is to its protagonist (some would of course argue he’s the very opposite of a protagonist). While the screenplay is directly based on Belfort’s book of the same name, it appears to have gone down one of two roads. We never exactly sympathise with Belfort, but we feel something for him, which is strange because for all intents and purposes, his story is pretty despicable. He’s a greedy, arrogant, uncaring, unfaithful drug addict who cares for nothing more than his riches, and we know that if it were us on the other end of the line he wouldn’t stop until he had our money.

Yet on that other end we somehow understand his plight. For who wouldn’t want to be rich? Who wouldn’t want to rise to the top? Is it truly his fault, when he started out like everyone else; young, ambitious and timid? Was it ever really his goal to become the monster – or, indeed, the wolf – that he did?  It’s an interesting moral dilemma that I think writer Terence Winter pitches just about right.  I began this review with Belfort’s line about solving problems with riches, which as I said appears to be the crux of his story, but there’s actually a bit more to it than that.  By the end we remain fairly unsympathetic towards him, as we would expect to, but the line “to err is human” undeniably drifts delicately into our thoughts.

There’s been a lot of talk about the length and whether it really needs to be three hours.  The simple answer is that no, it certainly doesn’t. One crunch is that it does feel like a story we’ve seen before; the drama runs a very similar arc to something like Goodfellas where we witness the rise and inevitable decline of the young, wannabe king who desires nothing more than money and power, and there are a number of sequences that definitely could have been tightened up. Two and a half hours probably would have sufficed. Yet, that being said, it does remain gripping and completely entertaining for the entire running time, which for any three hour movie is something of an accomplishment. And what the hell, it’s Scorsese – in my mind he can do whatever he wants.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

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  • partidario January 19, 2014 at 6:18 pm:

    Brilliant review. I heard comments somewhere that the film doesn’t show the consequences of the type of behaviour portrayed, but I think, even just watching the trailer, for anyone with more than two brain cells,, that would be self-evident. Scorsese, rightly, didn’t want to patronise the audience.

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