Trailer: The Wolf of Wall Street
Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, from his rise to a wealthy stockbroker to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government.PT2M30S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2yptb 620 349 December 4, 2013
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
(R) 179 minutes
At the start of Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), the wolf of the title, is a self-made millionaire living high on the hog. He runs a successful brokerage firm, Stratton Oakmont, that peddles worthless stocks to naive investors. He's married to a beautiful woman, Naomi (Margot Robbie), whom he cheats on almost daily. And he enjoys all the finer things in life, from Quaaludes to cocaine.
Wolf seems like a throwback to the Scorsese of Goodfellas and Casino - one more spectacularly profane docudrama devoted to the brutal underside of American life. But, unlike its predecessors, it isn't a gangster movie as such; rather, it makes the bold assumption that business and crime are essentially identical.
While the rise and fall of Stratton Oakmont occurred in the 1990s, the film is plainly fuelled by anger over the global financial crisis a decade on: with hindsight, Belfort can be viewed as a typical product of a corrupt system, not as a bad apple on an otherwise healthy tree.
This might be the most obvious film Scorsese has made: everything is out in the open, bluntly stated, free of metaphor. The screenplay by former Sopranos writer Terence Winter has just one point to make - that Belfort and his associates are horrible pigs - and makes it over and over. The absence of character development is matched by an outwardly flat, perfunctory style: the slick tracking shots suggest weary self-parody, while the many vintage music cues add little beyond laboured sarcasm.
Still, all this is apt enough for an epic depiction of waste, entropy and wretched excess. Scorsese even manages to make meaningful use of the innate annoyingness of Jonah Hill as Jordan's best bud, Donnie Azoff, an obese, jabbering little troll who serves as a manifestation of his mentor's id.
Much of the humour depends on the contrast between the realm of finance, ruled by numbers and abstractions, and the material world of obscene luxury, occupied by bodies that are either impossibly glamorous or absurdly grotesque. In a climactic setpiece, Jordan gets so high on Quaaludes he's unable to speak or move; lying on his stomach, he wriggles towards his car like the grub he is, a callback to an earlier scene in which he and his gang demonstrate a surprising familiarity with Tod Browning's 1932 horror classic Freaks.
At such moments, Wolf begs for comparison with other recent American provocations such as Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers and Michael Bay's Pain and Gain. Yet for all the decadence and vulgarity on show, we're rarely allowed the response of straightforwardly superior laughter. A genuinely brilliant salesman, Jordan uses his incessant voiceover to win us to his side: one of the film's main formal pleasures is the way this unreliable narration appears to be steering the flow of imagery, which nonetheless occasionally slips out of its control.
It's clear by now DiCaprio's strength lies in villainy, and he's even funnier and more physically effective here than he was as a preening slaveowner in Django Unchained. His Jordan isn't bottled up, like other characters he has played for Scorsese: he's outgoing, demonstrative, a people person. He knows exactly how to tap into the greed and snobbery of his victims - and he has no qualms about fleecing them, for wouldn't they do the same if they had the chance?
Curiously, it's the star's charm that lends the film its subversive edge. Jordan is a monster, but also a handsome winner who personifies the American Dream; his tastes, while hardly exquisite, are wholly in tune with mainstream notions of success. Even viewers repelled by his more brazen transgressions might long to drive his white Ferrari, live in his mock-Tudor mansion, or wear his pin-stripe suits. As Catholic as ever, Scorsese gives the devil no more than his due: if wickedness wasn't attractive, why would anyone be tempted to sin?