The Wolf of Wall Street

Art & Culture

The key word in relation to this film is fun. It’s fun to watch. All three hours of it. In fact it’s a lot more fun than many films half its length. It’s energetic, exuberant and fun – and funny. Writing the day after the Oscar nominations, I’d suggest Leonardo diCaprio deserves to win, notwithstanding the excellence of Matthew McConaughey elsewhere (he also appears in this film).

Jordan Belfort is/was a shark. He has made, and lost and spent vast amounts of money and will probably go on doing so until his voice gives out. He has what it takes. He’s a salesman, who could sell ice to eskimos, and make them feel good while he’s doing so. He’s the Derren Brown of high finance – or should that be low finance. He started his career at around the time that Wall Street was made (1987), when he learnt the ropes from Mark Hanna (McConaughey). The ropes are also known as ‘how to screw your clients without compunction.’ Soon after, he set up on his own as Stratton Oakmont, a posh-sounding name for a firm that was basically a bunch of sleazy guys with a few phones, cold calling people and selling them stuff they didn’t need/couldn’t afford, using high pressure sales techniques and taking advantage of the desire to get rich quick. I believe it’s called The American Way.

All this is written about with candour and wit by Belfort himself in his book, after which the film is named, and on which it is based. In the book Belfort is both contrite (well, contriteish), about how what he was doing was unsustainable – i.e. he was going to get caught – but he never overlooks the fact that he had a whale of a time, ingesting vast amounts of drugs, trying to spend or hide more cash than he knew what to do with, and screwing everything he could lay his hands on. The film, which covers this whole sordid and spectacular saga in three hours, inevitably compresses some of the detail, but it’s pretty much all there.

The trophy second wife who turns against him after one two many provocations; the father (Rob Reiner) who flies off into inexplicable rages; the best friend/partner Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) who is two parts fuckwit to one part whizzkid; the overdose of vintage quaaludes (Belfort’s drug of choice) which culminates in an epic one mile car journey; the sleazy Swiss French banker (Jean Dujardin from The Artist); the FBI agent determined to nail his man; and the English aunt (Joanna Lumley) who acts as a money mule. It’s all there, in all its sleazy glory, like a Mafia-free version of Goodfellas or Casino.

No one knows better than Scorsese (and his editor, Thelma Schoonmaker) how to put together a film that gives such unabashed pleasure. The soundtrack is as always, a killer; the editing is snappy, but the important scenes are allowed to unfold at a more leisurely pace (dCaprio is sensational at making inspirational speeches to his troops); and just when you think the film can’t top itself, it does. At the centre of it all is Leo, finally finding the role he was born to play. He’s terrific from start to finish, and any reservations I’ve had about him in earlier roles are dismissed. He holds the film together, and is worth the admission price on his own.


Phil Raby

Front Row Films

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