Sunday 19 January 2014

The Wolf Of Wall Street (2014) - Martin Scorsese

Leonardo DiCaprio's lack of an Oscar win has become a huge ongoing joke.  Between both the Oscars and the BAFTAs, he's been nominated for best actor seven times but is still yet to win the coveted honour.  If anyone is going to give him the best platform possible, it's multi-Oscar winning director Martin Scorsese.  They've worked together on a number of films over the past decade, but The Wolf Of Wall Street is their best collaboration yet.  Could this finally be DiCaprio's year?

Based on a true story, the film has DiCaprio playing Jordan Belfort, a stock broker in late 80s Wall Street.  As a character, Belfort is a few murders short of American Psycho's Patrick Bateman.  Driven by greed, cold hard cash is his drug in a corporate world of suits, prostitutes and heavy pill and cocaine use.

Unlike Bateman, though, Belfort is a far more charismatic leader.  We watch as he develops his start-up company from selling penny stocks, to a multi-million dollar business, running Stratton Oakmont like the leader of some sort of fanatical, religious cult.  As he gives rousing, inspirational speeches to his employees (and directly addressing the audience) like a crazed, devout church speaker, his office resembles a jungle of desks, phones and chest-beating apes; an animalistic, testosterone-fuelled world of hyperbolic machismo.  Here, the women are utterly periphery, predominantly flesh for sniffing cocaine.

It's a role that DiCaprio excels at, balancing conniving manipulation, drug-induced comedy and Belfort's inevitable breakdown.  He might have the money, the house, the boat and the women that many people aspire to, but Scorsese's camera doesn't shy away from his destructive and debauched lifestyle: from Gatsby-style parties to horrendous drug-driving.  This might amount to some hilariously entertaining set-pieces (with a great performance from Jonah Hill as the toothy Donnie Azoff, Belfort's right-hand man), but Belfort is fundamentally not a likeable protagonist.

The film is certainly a black comedy, but it also resembles Goodfellas in its epic scope, with Belfort almost positioned like a mobster boss - but without the unpredictable sense of danger.  Although long, the film must set up what Belfort has to lose and the pace of the lengthy yet memorable scenes is always swift and gripping, all directed as slickly as DiCaprio's hair.

Ultimately, though, The Wolf Of Wall Street is a cautionary tale on living to excess, the effects of greed and the darker side of the American Dream.  Whether the film revels too far in its hedonistic debauchery is simply a matter of taste.