THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
BY STEVEE OF CINEMATIC PARADOX
The Wolf of Wall Street has hit its fair bit of controversy. From the 3-hour run-time, to the record number of f-bombs, to the misogyny, the female nudity, and the apparent glorification of the devil, Jordan Belfort, it seems that Martin Scorsese’s latest can’t catch a break. However, we do have to remember that this has been nominated for Best Picture, and for good reason: it is a movie that represents the sign of our times, in more ways than one.
Sure, Gravity is a fantastic technical achievement, and 12 Years a Slave is possibly the most important film to come out in years. The Wolf of Wall Street may not be a front runner, but it is definitely not a film that will be forgotten and disposed of once awards season is over. After all, this is a movie that headlines the sudden movement that 2013 movies took: following lives indulged by excess. With films such as Spring Breakers, The Bling Ring, American Hustle, The Great Gatsby, Side Effects, Pain & Gain and Blue Jasmine exploring the price and pitfalls of the American Dream, 2013 has become a banner year for this theme and I wouldn’t be surprised if we’ll be studying this new wave in the future. However, The Wolf of Wall Street trumps them all, and if we do end up studying and writing essays on this movement, it is clear that this will be the magnum opus.
The Wolf of Wall Street is both extremely entertaining to watch, but hard to swallow. Based on the two autobiographical novels by Jordan Belfort, The Wolf of Wall Street and Catching the Wolf of Wall Street, we follow Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) as he arrives on Wall Street and is subsequently spat out when Black Monday happens, and then he decides to start his own ‘boiler room’ in an abandoned auto-body shop, with his pal Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill). We see him divorce one wife and marry another (who is played by the brilliant Margot Robbie, who I still can’t quite get over how far she’s come from her Neighbours days), earn a lot of money and then go and blow it on every type of drug ever, and, well, be brought down by the law. Yes, it is a simple rise and fall story, but it is one that is more of a cautionary tale that particularly resonates with the world today.
Oops, no, that’s right…this film is glorifying Jordan Belfort, isn’t it? Because the film is mostly entertaining that must mean that we all want to be him, right? That we would go out and rip off people so we could live the crazy, drugged up life that Jordan did?
Controversy is a strange thing, as Zero Dark Thirty found out last year when it was accused of being pro-torture. Yes, films can be fictional delights, but films can also tell things exactly the way it is – as The Wolf of Wall Street did. Jordan Belfort did live the “good life” through doing very bad things. Scorsese could’ve shown testimonies from Belfort’s victims and all the damage that he did, but then this would be a very different film. He tells it the way that Belfort tells it, because you could all learn a lesson from this overly confident, immoral guy. And you could also learn a lesson from the way society treats guys like him – the bad guy who gets millions, then goes to prison for a measly two years, and continues to live a pretty good life. However, the good guys, in this film represented by Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) gets to ride home on the subway and live a pretty normal life. The hero is the guy who has everything we want, whereas the good guy who just skates by on everything we need. Kind of a sad moral to the story, and is about as far as they could get from glorifying Belfort.
Not only is this film a compelling and quite frankly, a sickening sign of our times, The Wolf of Wall Street has everything that would constitute a good movie in spades: the screenplay, the actors, the director. At three hours, screenwriter Terrence Winter had a lot to cover – and apparently, we have a four hour cut of the film coming when the DVD arrives. With the help of Thelma Schoonmaker’s amazing editing, we have a film that is searingly funny, filled with all sorts of dodgy characters and dodgy conversations, and that never fails to entertain or miss a beat. Martin Scorsese, at age 71, has brought us a film with non-stop energy, so much so that it is kind of exhausting, but Scorsese never slows down. In his fifth collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio, he brings out what I think is Leo’s best performance out of all their films, and probably his best performance to date. While I love Leo to pieces, I’ve never seen him as a completely immersive actor, mainly because his face is far too familiar. However, watching interviews with the real Jordan Belfort and watching the film itself, there’s little that separates Leo and his real-life counterpart. It is such a brave, hilarious, slightly terrifying performance that could indeed see him be the upset come Oscar night. He’s backed by a fantastic ensemble that includes Jonah Hill (in terrific form), Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernathal, Kyle Chandler, Jon Favreau, Joanna Lumley and Jean Dujardin.
And with that, I truly believe that The Wolf of Wall Street is an exciting definition of cinema today, by a guy who probably knows more about the history of cinema than anyone else. Scorsese has the art of pushing boundaries and creating controversy perfected. Which reminds us that cinema is very much still alive, because while in the world of film we get a whole lot of things: wild fictional stories, groundbreaking technology. Scorsese hits on something rare: staring humanity deep in its ugly face. It doesn’t have a chance of winning (but here’s hoping for DiCaprio) the big prize, but it more than definitely deserves its place among the year’s best.
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