THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is crazy gonzo fun for about an hour. And then it's still sporadically funny but the complete lack of character or indeed plot development starts to nag at you. And while it's nagging you think, haven't I seen all this before, thematically at least, in GOODFELLAS and CASINO? And then, in the final half hour of this over-long three hour film, you get the first indication of the dark side of the excesses of greed and addiction - the first actually profound exploration. And it's just too late.
Which is not to say that Martin Scorsese hasn't achieved a great deal with this film. No-one depicts hedonism with his sense of energy, flair and superb synchronisation of music cues. And my god, Leonardo diCaprio and Seth Rogen really commit to their performances. To see the two rookie stockbrokers sneak out the back of a restaurant, smoke crack and then go skipping and jumping through the car-lot like naughty children is a joy. To see them, now super successful, crippled by quaaludes, bodies spasoming, fighting over a kitchen counter is physical comedy of the highest form. To be sure the intervening two hours contain many a funny scene. The serious discussion about dwarf tossing, referring always to the dwarf as 'it' is funny as hell. But there's an uneasiness in the gonzo nature of this film, and Scorsese's resistance to any dark backing. Surely it must be possible to make a movie about superficial greedy people that is not itself superficial and egregious?
Because, make no mistake, the tone of this film for the majority of the run-time is one of admiration for these charming gonzo folk. It's swallowed the hype for the most part. It makes zero attempt to show the impact of these swindlers on the ordinary folk whose money they have invested in worthless stock, while taking massive commission. The 'hero' has an earnest first wife who is dispatched in a divorce quickly and is never seen again. What's even worse is that Scorsese clearly isn't actually interested in the con.
Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) was a real life broker who operated a 'boiler plate' scheme - that means you set up a call centre and randomly cold call dumb schmucks and get them to invest their money with you. It works because they are ignorant and greedy. The so-called investments are actually in worthless 'penny stocks' - companies so small that they aren't on the main stock market and so fly under the radar of the big investment banks. And the real con, is that the brokers take 50% commission. So they take your $10,000, invest $5,000 in stuff that's worthless, and keep the other $5,000. In addition to this con, Jordan also ran two other cons. First, he would bring a new company to the stock market, but instead of selling the new shares in the market, he would pocket them himself, in secret, drive up the price and then sell. Second, he was wholesale exporting cold hard cash to a secret bank account in Switzerland.
Scorsese barely tells you any of this. In fact, time and again in Jordan's speeches to the audience he says something like 'You don't understand what I'm saying, or care, so let's just flick to another picture of me snorting coke from a hooker's arse.' I find this just as patronising as the original boiler plate scam - assuming the audience is as gullible and greedy for excess and dumb as the scammed investors. Scorsese is truly giving a massive Fuck You to all of us. Compare the approach taken here to J.C.Chandor's marvellous MARGIN CALL - the only movie to really GET Wall Street. The tragedy here is not that Scorsese fails, as Oliver Stone did with WALL STREET 2 - the tragedy is that Scorsese doesn't even try.
So when you strip out any interest in Wall Street, and any interest in what's really behind all this excess psychologically, what you basically get is a gag-reel full of drug-fuelled pratfalls and brilliantly kitschy 1980s clothes. It's funny but it's empty and too long given the paucity of its ambition.
But is it worth seeing anyway? Here I'd have to say 'yes'. The Matthew McConaughey cameo is genius - as if anyone isn't already convinced that this is truly HIS time in the sun. The physical comedy is fantastic. DiCaprio's quaaluded-up attempt to get to his car is worth awards glory on its own. But be prepared, amid these wonderful set-pieces, for boredom. And don't expect Scorsese to move beyond the thematic work that has, by now, become cliché - sudden wealth, hot wife, doofus sidekick, hubris, nemesis. Where's the personal growth? Both on the part of Jordan Belfort AND on the part of Scorsese?
P.S. If in your publicity material you're making great claims for screenwriter Terence Winter's background in investment banking, don't show the tickers for Black Monday as GREEN when the RED was dripping on the walls, dumbass.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is rated R in the USA and 18 in the UK for very strong language, strong sex and drug use. The movie has a running time of 180 minutes.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET was released last year in the USA, Canada, France, Albania, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Lebanon, New Zealand, Macedonia, Serbia and Slovenia. It was released earlier this month in Egypt, Argentina, Chile, Israel, Uruguay, Finland, India, Poland, Belgium, Denmark, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Portugal, Singapore, South Korea, Mexico, Romania, Sweden and Vietnam. It will be released on January 17th in the UK, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Pakistan and Spain. It will be released on January 23rd in Australia, Italy and Brazil; and on January 24th in Japan; on January 31st in Norway and Russia; on February 7th in Russia, Estonia and Latvia; on February 13th in Hong Kong; on February 21st in Lithuania; and on February 28th in Turkey.
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