The Wolf Of Wall Street (Blu-ray)
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Victor, South Africa. 12 January 2016
The Wolf of Wall Street, Scorseseâ€™s 23rd feature in almost 50 years â€“ and best in more than 20 â€“ is based on a memoir by the stockbroker Jordan Belfort, who founded the investment firm Stratton Oakmont in an abandoned Long Island garage, and spent much of the Nineties swindling his way to an enormous personal fortune.
Some of that money went towards funding the kind of social life that might have made Caligulaâ€™s hair fall out, although the party finally came to an end in 1998, when Belfort was indicted by the FBI for securities fraud and money-laundering.
Scorsese shows us this, but heâ€™s mostly concerned with Belfortâ€™s fast and cynical route to the top, and the near-limitless supplies of girls and drugs he finds there. A typical week at Stratton Oakmont involves dwarf-tossing, naked marching bands, and a spectacle Belfort describes as a â€œstripper stampedeâ€. As such, the film stands accused of glamourising his crimes, ignoring his victims and failing to satisfy the audienceâ€™s need to see justice served.
And yes, The Wolf of Wall Street is roaringly guilty on all counts. I wonder, though, if anyone who left the cinema simmering with frustration â€“ coupled, perhaps, with a sense of guilt over being quite as titillated by Belfortâ€™s antics as they were â€“ stopped to wonder if that might have been exactly the reaction Scorsese was aiming for.
Crime thrillers donâ€™t normally require much risk on the audienceâ€™s part: we invest pleasure in the bad guysâ€™ schemes and scams, secure in the knowledge that the return will, in the end, be a morally satisfying one. The Wolf of Wall Street plays the market differently. It sells us the sleaze, and sells it hard, but it doesnâ€™t pay out in the way we expect. The value of investments can go down as well as up.
Troublesome as it seems to be proving, the idea is not a new one. In telling this archetypal American rise-and-fall story, Scorsese is casting back to the great Thirties gangster pictures, like Howard Hawksâ€™s Scarface and William A Wellmanâ€™s The Public Enemy, about ambitious men who were impatient for power and wealth. (Both of those films, incidentally, provoked moral outcries in their time for broadly similar reasons.
Scorsese includes a sensational scene that echoes the moment in The Public Enemy where Cagney vengefully pushes half a grapefruit into the face of his lover. Here, though, it is Belfortâ€™s outraged trophy wife Naomi, played by Margot Robbie, who hurls a first, second, then third glass of water in her husbandâ€™s face, while he throws a spluttering tantrum.
Her target, booming and flailing in the title role, is played by Leonardo DiCaprio, whose Oscar- and Bafta-nominated turn here is one of the actorâ€™s very best: a knock-out uppercut of pure anti-heroism. Like Paul Muni and James Cagney in those Golden Age gangster movies, he is larger, louder and more monstrous than life, and the likeness is surely intentional.
This gives the film a darkly comic tone not usually found in Scorsese, but the material could hardly be treated any other way. A scene in which Belfort silently pantomimes rough sex with a customer he is duping over the telephone is played for hollow laughs, and a sequence where a drug-addled Belfort drags himself, inch by inch, across a car park leads to a magnificent slapstick episode â€“ a demonic Jerry Lewis skit.
But the filmâ€™s wild energy belies a carefulness on Scorseseâ€™s part. He is walking a razor-wire tightrope here similar to those he crossed in Goodfellas and Casino; glamourising without endorsing, treating the audience like adults, trusting that our moral sense will compensate for his charactersâ€™ lack of one.
Belfortâ€™s cronies, meanwhile, make for as vivid a chorus as either of those earlier films boasted. There is Jonah Hill as a faithful acolyte, Rob Reiner as Belfortâ€™s permanently furious father, Joanna Lumley as a cut-glass money-launderer, Jean Dujardin, from The Artist, as a Swiss banker so reptilian you half-expect him to pop out a foot-long tongue in between lines and casually lick an eyeball.
Scorseseâ€™s last two features, the psychological thriller Shutter Island and the childrenâ€™s fantasy Hugo, felt like honourable side-projects, but this is a major, late-period work, as morbidly curious about the American condition as his very best. Money in that country is both a drug and a sacrament, and Belfort, the very avatar of material success, is by turns addict and preacher.
â€œThis is Ellis Island, people,â€ he rages, forehead shining, as he urges his faithful employees to stay strong in the face of the FBI investigation. â€œI donâ€™t care who you are, where youâ€™re from, whether your relatives came over on the Mayflower or an inner-tube from Haiti. This, right here, is the land of opportunity.â€ Then comes the moral, as clean as it is terrifying: â€œStratton Oakmont is Americaâ€.
adriaan , South Africa. 12 October 2016
Awesome movie, great quality. Solid 5/7
brad, South Africa. 17 October 2016
great cast. great scripting all round excellent cinematic experience.
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