Let’s get this out of the way, I’m a very big fan of Martin Scorsese. Films such as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas (or if you are of a certain disposition then one can include Mean Streets as well) are all bonafide masterpieces of American cinema, each picking up on and commentating meaningfully on aspects of American culture, and I believe that The Wolf of Wall Street does something in a similar way. It is a little different from films like, say, The Departed or Hugo – both of which I think are excellent – did.
The Wolf of Wall Street is based on the incredibly true (ahem) story of Jordan Belfort, a massively wealthy and not-so-legal stockbroker in the 1980s and 1990s.
It should be obvious to anybody that Wolf is a satire on the American financial culture of Wall Street. It depicts acts of gross ineptitude and human immorality once money and greed get in the way. Despite all the off putting things that happen though, it still remains entertaining and that is the mark of a master director.
DiCaprio is at the top of his game here, putting in the best performance I’ve ever seen from him (I haven’t seen Blood Diamond or The Aviator which I hear he is pretty good in). An immeasurably satisfying performance, that is funny, violent, abhorrent and exhilarating. I’m very pleased the Academy has given a nomination and out of the performances I’ve seen over the past year, they’d be foolish not to give it him. Jonah Hill is surprisingly very good as well. As are most of the performances, but DiCaprio is far and away the best here.
When I said “ahem” after the phrase “true story” what I mean was, as an autobiography it cannot be truly reliable. However, where this may be a problem in similar films (like the unsympathetic distortion of facts in Pain & Gain), Wolf tackles this head on, through playful numerous examples of breaking of the fourth wall, revision of events that reflect changes in characters mental states it achieves this. Crucially, the films knows that what it is showing is horrible and shouldn’t ever be taken lightly.
Although, I do find a problem in that there is no redeemable character with power in Wolf. I say that because Belfort’s wife who is utterly sympathetic, she emerges as pure eye candy and the embodiment of male fantasy, but morphs into a real character while everyone around her remains plastic and fake, but she doesn’t have any real power in the film (maybe this is sadly reflected by real life).
Complaining that Belfort’s arc is seemingly incomplete or that the film does not judge him or moralise him does not sit well with me, because if we (or America) as a society does not reprimand people like Belfort then why should the film?
I see how that may seem tentative and you could very easily be forgiven for walking away from Wolf with a queasiness. The moment where he hits his wife is just really awful, and there’s a part of you that does not expect Belfort to do it, so when he does it, it makes it feel that little bit worse.
Yes it’s offensive, loud, sweary, sexy and not built to play to a large crowd. But it is still a riotous affair of said excess.
Will it join Scorsese’s pantheon of American epics? Well, only time will tell, but I doubt it will be a routinely accepted as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas.