“My name is Jordan Belfort. The year I turned 26, I made 49 million dollars, which really pissed me off because it was three shy of a million a week.”
Martin Scorsese a man known for battling demons in the subject matter addressed in his body of work from Taxi Driver to Goodfellas, broke character with 2011’s child friendly film Hugo. This uncharacteristic change of direction on a filmic road paved with blood, drugs and debotchery, earned him his only ‘U’ certificate in a career spanning over 50 years. This diversion was shortlived as Marty returns with the hedonistic biographical tale of Jordan Belfort, aka The Wolf of Wall Street. (Wolf)
“Sweetheart, you have my money taped to your tits. Technically you do work for me.”
The film follows the exploits of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) as he attempts to chase that the American dream, to go from the bottom to the top and become a millionaire. Jordan gets his first job on Wall Street and learns a lifelong lesson from his tutor Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey);
“Mark Hanna: The name of the game, moving the money from the client’s pocket to your pocket.
Jordan Belfort: But if you can make your clients money at the same time it’s advantageous to everyone, correct?
Mark Hanna: No.”
Jordan’s idealistic attitude is short-lived. The crash of the late 1980’s resulted in he, along with countless others losing their jobs. Jordan starts again in a low heal pink slip trading outfit selling junk shares to your average Joe for a 50% commission. Jordan seeing an opportunity assembles a crack team of bullshit artists to chase his dream of scaling the dizzy heights of Wall Street. Nicky ‘Rugrat’ Kosoff (PJ Byrne), Chester Ming (Kenneth Choi), Robbie ‘Pinhead’ Feinberg (Brian Sacca), Toby Welch (Ethan Suplee) and Alber ‘Sea Otter’ Kupferberg (Henry Zebrowski) make up Jordan’s band of merry men. The last to be recruited is Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) who becomes Jordan’s right hand man and close friend and confidant. Jordan’s new gathering of stock brokers equipped with a sales script from Jordan, establish Stratton Oakmont, a Wall Street brokerage firm run from a former car mechanic garage. Belfort targets the richest 1% with high ticket blue companies like Disney and Kodak to draw them into his newly polished turd Stratton Oakmont before unloading the junk pink slips onto them.
It isn’t long before Jordan is a top trader on Wall Street, dubbed a ‘twisted Robin Hood’ by mainstream media. Unaffected, Jordan continues his appetite for indulgence in drug consuming that would make Al Pacino’s Scarface seem like a lightweight and enough sex to make the cast of 1979’s Caligula look like choir boys. His life is made all the more complete with his marriage to Naomi Lapaglia (Margot Robbie), but despite the 2.4 children and dream house, Jordan continues unabated on his hedonistic lifestyle.
Eventually the law catch up Jordan’s activities with FBI Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) in his suit he has most likely been wearing for three days straight pursuing our protagonist. Denham’s pursuit occupies the latter half of the movie, as Jordan (half heartedly) questions his raison d’etre.
“Most of the Wall Street jackasses I bust are douchebags, just like their fathers before them. But you… you, Jordan, got this way all on your own.”
The film is an unrelenting assault on the senses and ones taste, it pulls no punches in addressing its tale of greed and indulgence. The performances of DiCaprio and Hill are standout, even the brief appearance of McConaughey leads to arguably the films most memorable scene. Wolf is a movie that, like the staff at Stratton Oakmont, doesn’t know when it has had enough. The film at 180 minutes is overly long, it is uneven and inconsistent, and in serious need of a cut of 45 minutes. Wolf skims the surface on the science behind stock speculating, but takes an unnecessary amount of time graphically depicting every sexual encounter Jordan and his band of merry men undertake. While there are countless references to drugs and drug taking, the seriousness of the subject is reduced through the films unexpected comical tone. It’s presence serves a purpose as it furthers the plot, giving the audience a greater insight into the culture and mindset of these ruthless amoral individuals. The sex and nudity however serves no purpose. Far be it from me to ever claim to be a monk, but the constant use of T & A and simulated sex is utterly unnecessary. In one instance Jordan boasts of how he and best friend Donnie “double teamed” a prostitute. Note to Mr Scorsese, we all know how a rotisserie chicken works, you don’t need to show us how that unpleasant jigsaw fits together.
“I’ll tell you what: I’m never eating at Benihana again. I don’t care whose birthday it is.”
You leave feeling empty as the film has no definable conclusion, no pay off for the audience. While justice is served in the film, the lack of empathy you feel for the protagonist throughout makes the experience of sitting through this feel like time wasted. A feeling of pity is felt to Jordan’s first wife, his second wife, his kids, and to a lesser extent his parents. Wolf can be viewed as Scorsese remaking Goodfellas, in essence a mirror image of it. The film follows the same format, bright eyed boy wants to make it big, drugs, sex, drugs, takes on too much work, drugs, sex, infidelity, rehab, law enforcement investigation, makes a deal, rats on his friends, easy jail time, happy ever after. However the main difference between Goodfellas and Wolf is that despite despicable protagonists in Henry Hill (Goodfellas) and Jordan Belfort, Hill has a shred of decency and redemption to his actions.
Di Caprio and Hill warrant their acting nods, and in DiCaprio’s case, his powerhouse performance deserves Oscar glory. His performance in Wolf is akin to early Pacino in Godfather or Serpico, it is career defining and his magnetic dynamism as Belfort captivates from the moment his narration break the fourth wall. The script while filled with F bombs is sharp and witty, the colour palette is intense and pace at times is too much to cope with. For a man who just turned 71, Martin Scorsese, shows that he still has the frenetic energy and ambition to direct with the same intensity of his youth. Despite being over gratuitous, overly long, unbalanced and without remorse or empathy, I did find Wolf an enjoyable if at times unpalatable experience.
Crass, vile, soulless and like the investors in the film, Wolf will leave you feeling robbed of your money. But much like the by-product of the illegal substances consumed, you might enjoy the frequent highs throughout.
Rating: *3.5 / 5
*(so close to a 4 but equally a 3, meeting half way seems fair)
words by david rushe