Hungry Like The Wolf
Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman was on in cinemas in the UK and US in November and is now on Netflix internationally. So Tripwire set its editor-in-chief Joel Meadows and senior editor Andrew Colman the mammoth task of watching and reviewing all of his films. Next up is 2013’s bawdy drama The Wolf Of Wall Street reviewed by Andrew Colman…
The Wolf Of Wall Street
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Leonardo Di Caprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey
Scorsese’s broad, Rabelaisian exposition of the life of Wall Street trader Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a watershed movie of sorts for the director – a film whose aim is eclipsed by the relationship it has with its content. In other words, it’s a movie about a load of rampant, ruthless shits who party harder and stop at nothing to accrue wealth, with some amusing slapstick moments but little beyond that. The movie details the rise of Belfort and his amazingly nit witted partner Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) in the bear pit of the financial district, as they gain followers, and all the accoutrements of that good old, pre-woke, decadent 80s lifestyle. And it’s the lifestyle-porn that takes centre stage, with relentless, gauze filtered widescreen shots of mansions, Porsches, coke mountains, yachts, orgies, sleek boardrooms, jewellery, limos and ‘ludes.
And at three hours, it does pall considerably by its halfway point. Belfort, having gone under with his first gig in Wall Street, regroups by joining a corrupt penny stock firm and subsequently reinvents the company as a legitimate concern, but retains all the sharp, “pump and dump” practices he created. An expose about Belfort’s new venture appears in Forbes magazine, but backfires, attracting hundreds of applicants keen to hitch their wagon to the gravy train. From there he and Azoff continue their zany hijinks in ever more plush offices, while Belfort divorces his first wife Teresa Petrillo (Cristin Milioti) and marries Naomi LaPaglia (Margot Robbie). He cements his ascendancy by illegally making a fortune out of Azoff’s friend Steve Madden (Jake Hoffman)’s company in the stock market and then proceeds to hide the money in Switzerland with the FBI breathing down his neck.
There are times (well, most of the time) when this whirlwind of a movie veers into self-aggrandised, hyperreal fantasy, as DiCaprio’s Belfort, a sort of wigged-out Gordon Gekko, gets all quasi-gangsta, taking endless pills and lines, romping with prostitutes and generally running amok, the gonzo culture he nurtured even spreading to the office toilet. For 90% of the picture, Belfort and his blowhard cronies indulge in a life that even Fellini would think too outrageous, mocking FBI investigators, the press and indeed anyone who gets in the way of getting “fucked up”. There’s so much frat house psychosis and (admittedly amusing) idiocy that it all seems like a cross between Di Palma’s Scarface and a mock rockumentary, only somewhat more scuzzier and narcissistic. In the end, we await the moment when hubris meets nemesis, but these oh so loveable strung out rogues take forever to come unstuck.
In many ways, this is Goodfellas minus the murder with sharper suits, nicer furniture and vast amounts of nudity. None of the protagonists have a shred of decency (not even Naomi’s Auntie Emma, played by national treasure Joanna Lumley) and yet, as with Henry Hill’s thugs, you do warm to them, at least a little, despite the appalling consequences of their actions. This is at least partly due to the baby faced, doe eyed DiCaprio, whose wholesome looks belie an unquenchable amount of craven, hedonistic sociopathy. Granted, he doesn’t adequately inhabit that pathology, but he’s not bad, as is then-newcomer Margot Robbie and the rest of the ensemble. There are excellent turns from Rob Reiner as Belfort’s equally amoral dad, Jon Bernthal as Belfort’s psychotic fixer Brad Bodnick (not exactly miscast there), Jean Dujardin’s sleazy, hateful Swiss banker, and Jon Favreau’s consiglieri Manny Riskin. However the FBI roles are too understated, with Kyle Chandler’s effort as Belfort’s antagonist not given enough screen time for what was a very worthwhile character.
As an epic it is supremely shallow and has little scope, beyond the bacchanalian behaviour of the Versace mob. Compulsive it may be in its rock video stylings, replete with the mandatory electric blues (Bo Diddley, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker the soundtrack of choice for this unreconstructed apologia) but it’s vapid and mind numbing, as Belfort steadfastly refuses to grow or learn anything. Which is fine – Marty was never one for allegory or moralizing (that’s Oliver Stone’s thing) but it does make for an inevitably empty experience, and one which Scorsese would be wise not to repeat. There are simply too many moments throughout where the movie basically resembles a porn flick – seriously Mr. Scorsese, this is entertainment certainly, but what were you thinking?? With all the finesse and craftsmanship in the world, Scorsese can only forge a tale from Belfort’s source material whose message is that greed is good, until you get caught. And in Belfort’s case, even incarceration is modified and refined by wealth. Before long, he’s out, brazenly spreading his toxic gospel to an endless sea of credulous marks.
A friend of mine opined that the movie was like eating a load of potato chips – enjoyable but with zero nutritional value – and within a couple of hours, you’re hungry again. But I’d be lying if I said that a part of me isn’t envious of the ride Belfort had at other people’s expense. And if anything, that’s the point of this jaded semi-rehash – rich is better, if not nobler, and certainly a lot more fun. As DiCaprio’s lead declaims to his wild-eyed office acolytes, it’s the American Way.
Here’s the film’s trailer
Here’s the other Month Of Marty reviews so far as well
And here’s our review of The Irishman from last year too