Martin Scorsese returns with this darkly comic real life drama about stockbroker, Jordan Belfort, who rose quickly through the ranks to earn millions of dollars through backstabbing and illegal activities when he defrauded investors in a massive securities scam that involved deeply routed corruption throughout Wall Street. Belfort’s story is one that was screaming to be made into a film as it just sounds so out of this world – it really is a one in a million situation. Scorsese reunites once again with his current muse, Leonardo DiCaprio (now a Golden Globe winner for this role) as Belfort, who after five films with the iconic director is really entering the prime of his career. Alongside DiCaprio’s slimy and treacherous Belfort, Jonah Hill plays Donnie Azoff (Belfort’s number two) and Margot Robbie plays Naomi Lapaglia (Belfort’s not-so-long-suffering second wife). The great supporting cast includes a wealth of international talent, from Kyle Chandler as Agent Patrick Denham, Rob Reiner as Max Belfort, Matthew McConaughey as Mark Hanna, Jean Dujardin as Jean Jacques Saurel and Joanna Lumley as Aunt Emma.
What is hugely important to note from the start is that The Wolf of Wall Street is simply hilarious and not just sniggering, uncomfortable laughter either, but full on belly laughter, which is something so rarely seen in a Scorsese picture or done by DiCaprio, so on both counts, it’s wonderful to see them do something somewhat out of their safety zone. From the ironic laughter at the frightful nature of the situations, to DiCaprio’s comic timing (for example, trying to persuade his boat’s captain to sail the ship, despite the storm that was brewing, just so that he could ensure his money was safe) and all the way through to the intimate nature of the story and the characters themselves. From the very start, the chemistry between DiCaprio and Hill is second to none – they move in the same way, they mirror each other, they are as smarmy as each other and they perfectly illuminate each others faults and issues (usually with hilarious results).
During one sequence in particular (which should go down in history), both Belfort and Azoff have taken quaaludes that are 15 years old and are at a potency no longer produced. At first they do not affect the system as they were expecting and decide to take some more, but when the drugs suddenly take effect, the results are hysterical. DiCaprio is forced to do physical acting like never before in his career and is resulted to moving like a toddler across the floor because all of his body and senses have become impaired. His careful movements and slight gestures are a stroke of genius, which alongside his comic narration really harks home the challenges of this sequence. When he finally makes it to his car, which he then proceeds to drive home, he tries to stop Azoff on the phone with Europe where he is talking about the money they have stored illegally. The phone is tapped by the FBI agents trying to catch them. The scene goes from ridiculous to hilarious and past hysterical, as DiCaprio climbs limberly across the kitchen counter to rip the phone from him. Then they fall to the ground and fight, like apes, hitting each other as if performing some sort of animalistic ritual. When Azoff get’s away, he is quickly stopped as he chokes on some food and falls into a glass table – the results are wonderful to watch.
Furthermore, Scorsese is also very intelligent in how he portrays Belfort’s lifestyle. Whilst he tries his hardest to neither glamourise nor judge Belfort, it is of course incredibly difficult to not do either when you are aware of his story. Instead, he relies heavily upon humour because this form of satire allows the audience to question the intentions behind Belfort’s actions, if they want to. Scorsese has employed here a plan of action that is reminiscent to the representation of the character of Patrick Bateman, both in Bret Easton Ellis’ novel of American Psycho but also Mary Harron’s film adaptation – both are so finely tuned to mould together a dark nastiness alongside a sharp and intense satirical humour, which causes the audience to pause and question. That is what is key about this production, whilst it is quite clear from the start that he is a nasty piece of work, there is never a direct message to the audience that you should hate this man and instead they are left to their own decisions. Of course, he is seen enjoying drugs and money, fast cars and big boats, beautiful houses and many other luxuries but there are aspects and moments when the audience are left wondering whether this all really means anything. For instance, the scenes when Jordan is cheating with prostitutes are so intense and yet before the audience know it, they are finished. The scenes are never particularly sexy and for the the most part, they seem to perform a function for the audience as the prostitute does to Jordan. These scenes highlight his insincerity and sleaziness as a human being.
Whilst the idea of the three hour film is still a difficult concept to fully immerse yourself into, The Wolf of Wall Street has no issue about quickly grabbing the audience and not letting them go until the closing credits. Scorsese has so perfectly structured the film that before the audience are aware, they have been sitting for three hours and watched this small time no-one turn into big time crook. The pacing is wonderful, whilst the way characters appear and disappear feels so naturalist that at the moments when things seem out of this world, the audience just accept it and it works. The script itself, written by Terence Winter (best known for his work on The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire), is filled with killer one-liners and off the cuff comments that keep the audience hooked from the very first sentence.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s Oscar deserving performance is quite possibly the highlight of this glamorous, seamless production; he captures a character with flaws and during certain parts, makes the audience sympathise with him and even makes them feel like they want him to get away with what he is doing. The Wolf of Wall Street has set the bar high for films in 2014; showing that a leopard can change it’s spots (especially if as talented as Scorsese or DiCaprio) and is sure to have audiences hooked from the very opening moment.