Based upon the life of Jason Belfort, one of the biggest scumbags in America, Martin Scorsese delivers a propulsion-charged new picture spanning the early days of this petty middle-class totem-pole-low Wall Street stockbroker through his rise to the top as one of the richest men in high finance and his eventual crash to common criminal and FBI rat to save his own rank ass from the punishment he so richly deserved, but was spared from to become a highly sought-after motivational speaker.
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) Dir. Martin Scorsese *****
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Rob Reiner
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Ray Liotta as gangster Henry Hill in Martin Scorsese's 1990 crime epic Goodfellas describes, quite perfectly, what the face of a real monster looks like when he explains:
"... nobody ever tells you that they're going to kill you ... your murderers come with smiles. They come as your friends, the people who have cared for you all of your life, and they always seem to come at a time when you're at your weakest and most in need of their help."It's 23-years-later and this could well describe another monster. The portrait painted, again by the world's greatest living filmmaker, is so soul-suckingly real that for a good chunk of the running time of The Wolf of Wall Street, it might be easy to mistake Leonardo DiCaprio's presence in the title role as anything but monstrous.
The character DiCaprio inhabits as perfectly as the expensive suits he's outfitted with is none other than one of Wall Street's more detestable white collar criminals, Jordan Belfort. Scorsese's film delivers a charming, funny and sexy young man wanting so desperately to provide for his new wife, to grab the ring of success that will place him on a pedestal far above that of the straight-arrow middle-class accountant father (Rob Reiner) who raised him. He was nurtured with values, but saw them as merely boring - the sort of thing only chumps believed in and lived by. Values, for Jordan Belfort, were profits at the expense of everything and everyone.
Jordan Belfort comes at those who can afford it the least with smiles and he sucks from them as many dollars as he needs _ and then some - to build an empire founded on greed.
Make no mistake. The movie Scorsese gives us is as fun, funny and sexy as its leading character. It's as if he's built a movie equivalent to the sky-busting X-1 fighter jet Glamorous Glennis which pilot Chuck Yeager took to a speed of 700 miles per hour to break the "unbreakable" sound barrier. The Wolf of Wall Street is imbued with the cinematic equivalent to this momentous achievement in aviation history - it blasts forward with a seldom paralleled thrust and we're as seduced and delighted by Belfort's greed as we might be with the fortitude of any great movie hero. In fact, we often forget while watching the movie, that Belfort is little more than a bottom feeder - as are most of those who amass and/or maintain wealth.
Scorsese's sense of audacity is always far more tempered than, say, Oliver Stone's. He approaches the world of Wall Street by laying out the sheer insanity of thievery in an almost matter-of-fact way (with, of course, his trademark dollops of flourish) and he creates such excitement that I suspect few will be unable to resist being swept up in this seeming celebration of despicable behaviour and gross excess.
It's easy to do with boyish pretty-boy DiCaprio in the lead. We want him to succeed. We cheer his every victory, no matter how vile and underhanded because Scorsese lavishes every imaginable shred of his power as a filmmaker to force us to have fun. We see the development of Belfort's deep friendship with the flamboyant schmuck and business partner played by Jonah Hill (who's never been greater than he is here) as if they're superheroes - a dynamic duo - taking from the poor to give to each other so they can continue amassing wealth and power to the point where they can buy anything. The drugs, booze, parties and whores rain down on them like manna from Heaven and, damn it all, we want to see even more indulgences served up than humanly imaginable.
And we get them.
The sex in the movie feels endless (though it amounts to only 15 minutes of the picture's 179), the women are so beyond-beautiful that they could launch far more than Helen of Troy's pathetic one thousand ships and the mind altering intemperance rivals, in its own way, the Fear and Loathing that fuels the bacchanalian revelries of Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro in Las Vegas via Terry Gilliam's crazed adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's tome of twisted excess. The drug-fuelled moments in Wolf are, unlike Gilliam's, on the outsider-looking-in side of things, but I found them just as funny and they definitely go into a kind of neo-realist surrealism with board room sequences involving stockbrokers trying to seriously discuss business while they're clearly blasted out of their skulls.
And it's fun. Goddamn, it's fun! At 3-hours long, The Wolf of Wall Street is so undeniably entertaining that I never once bothered to check the time (something I have to do with most movies these days) and in fact, I kept hoping I could stay glued to the screen forever, delighting in one delicious dive into depravity after another. The male bonding, the macho posturing, the duping and exploitation of all the women parading through the film, the cavalier spending of money on extravagances of the most ludicrous kind and the utter disregard that even we come to have for those hurt by the proliferate greed of DiCaprio, Hill and every single one of their dubious pals, reveal a mere tip of the iceberg of indulgences that Scorsese magnificently allows us to revel in.
Some might take the holier-than-thou position that this is a simple glorification of capitalism at its most shallow and evil levels. Well, on one hand, it is a glorification, but the purposes it serves are two-fold. First, there's the sheer entertainment value of what Scorsese serves up. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, is that all this glorification of greed is utterly necessary for a handful of scenes and shots in the latter portion of the film that are its very soul. It's these brief touches Scorsese allows that are so profoundly, deeply and heartbreakingly moving. It's not merely where they're positioned in the picture, but that they stand out like oases of humanity in a desert of depravity.
What we take with us when we leave the cinema, is not the excess. What we carry in our hearts are the faces of those who will never achieve the wealth necessary to run roughshod over mankind. These are faces drained of life, exhausted by their lot in life or worse, so pathetically desperate in their need to be tossed just one bone that could, perhaps, take them out of their living deaths. Scorsese astoundingly achieves this without the clunky, moralistic turns that Oliver Stone's Wall Street takes. To be moralistic would be too easy. Scorsese never looks for easy ways out. (He just makes it seem like he was able to achieve this effortlessly.)
DiCaprio too, makes his great work here seem effortless. His collaborations with Scorsese have reached a pinnacle. His performance is nothing less than stunning. He claims the camera as if it was his God-given right to do so, but like all truly great actors, knows when to share it with those on-screen with him. The film includes a series of monologue set-pieces which provide DiCaprio with ample opportunity to demonstrate what must have been Belfort's considerable gift to command attention. When he removes his own personal gold-plated pen from his pocket and offers it up to someone who clearly needs his mentoring and says, "Sell this pen to me," we know damn well Belfort could do it when similarly challenged. What's even more obvious, is that DiCaprio sells us.
If his career ever dries up, he's gonna make mincemeat out of Tony Robbins.
The greatness that-is-Martin-Scorsese, delivers the subtle cappers that stay with us - quite possibly to our graves. He hands us, finally, a series of subtle, but ultimately salient, unforgettable images of those who do most of the living and dying in the world and it's their collective desperation that makes every second of this important film, for all its excess and surface glorification of greed vital, necessary and the best example of what great artists can achieve in motion pictures when they are given as much rope as possible - not to hang themselves, but to deliver work that renders us both breathless and that which will resonate with us the most once we've left the comfy confines of the cinema.
The face of a monster and its actions are precisely what we need lodged in our collective psyches. Men like Belfort do not seek genuine redemption - they cling to the mere pretense of atonement for their own personal necessary evil. It keeps their gaze sharp and clear - beaded upon that which will always fuel them - the faces of fear, heartache and desolation. These are a few of the things needed to steadfastly maintain the Status Quo of the merciless.
"The Wolf of Wall Street" is in wide release via Paramount Pictures.