Some events for the film are discussed in here. They might spoil the film for you. Look away if that sort of thing gets you lairy.
Let’s not bury the lead here, The Wolf Of Wall Street is a great film. It’s frequently funny – hilariously so during the first two hours – has some classic Scorsese set-pieces and the acting across the film is uniformly brilliant, with DiCaprio flicking between manic intensity and smarm with ease. But as a piece of entertainment, Wolf feels more like a Rorschach test on your tolerance of greed.
Based around the real life exploits of Jordan Belfort, TWOWS – what up to all my acronym lovers – focuses on how Belfort made his money (clue: not legally) and he how spent it (again: not very legally). Throughout it’s hefty three hours, Scorsese wrings tonnes of humour from people getting high and behaving awfully, to the extent where Wolf of Wall Street feels like a comedy first and a drama second.
And that really shouldn’t be a surprise considering the comic chops of a lot of the supporting characters: Jonah Hill mixes grotesquely bleached teeth with sharp wit; Matthew McConaughey gets about 4 seconds of screen time and still steals about the first hour; Rob Reiner is great as the slightly concerned – but mainly sweary – father to Belfort and Margot Robbie manages to take Jordan’s second wife The Duchess, a character who could have been loathsome, and creates at least a bit of sympathy for her.
Of course this is very much DiCaprio’s film and as you’d imagine he’s great as the amoral Belfort. Whether it’s gurning on ‘ludes or rallying the stockbroker troops, DiCaprio moulds Belfort into a charming sociopath, focused purely on the pursuit of money above all else. Yet I hated Jordan Belfort the character. I thought he was an awful, vile person whose lust for money made him irredeemable very quickly and grimaced through my laughs as he kept on sinking till the bitter end.
Fortunately, Scorsese’s style keeps the film engaging without ever becoming showy. The way he captures work floor speeches, lingering on DiCaprio’s explosive outbursts, before cutting to the many faces of his underlings who worship him. Throughout the film, Scorsese is slow and considered, despite the mania that unfolds on screen, inviting the audience to form their own conclusions from what they’re witnessing. It would be easy to turn this story into a lecture about our current financial situation, but Scorsese never uses the film as a soapbox to rally against Wall Street greed, just as a chance to explore the world that consumed Jordan Belfort.
Which of course has meant the film has been accused of not having a strong enough message, but it’s there… if you want it to be. The clearest moment of this is Kyle Chandler’s Agent Denham riding alone reading of his success in a paper as he surveys the oppressively grey surroundings he finds himself in, Scorsese’s camera trained on his viewpoint around the bleak train carriage before closing in on his face. Essentially, what does the inky blot look like to you? Is he a fool or a hero? And what does his victory even mean?
Then again, there were reports of bankers cheering at screenings and while Bournemouth is a fair few miles removed from the alpha obsessed world of Wall Street, there were still weird moments in my screening where people would laugh viciously loud at rather bizarre times – such as Jordan being caught cheating by his first wife. Even more troubling were the few groans when he gut punched his second wife. If that’s the moment where you start to feel he’s not that great, then where you paying attention for the first two and a half hours?
But my main issue with Belfort and his yarns of excess is that I have worked around people like him. During Jordan’s rallying cries, where he lectures his disciples about the need for dollar, I had flashbacks of floor leaders geeing up a sales floor, questioning our desire to earn a bonus at the end of the week. The assumption that you shared this hunger for money above else just never sat right with me. Maybe that’s why Belfort is such a turn off – because his need for greed is extrapolated to an intolerable point.
But that’s the beauty of The Wolf On Wall Street. It takes the apparent misadventures, warps them into a grandly obscene comedy and doesn’t tell you how to feel about it.
Apart from Quualudes. It wants you to love Quualudes.