Sunday, December 29, 2013
Film Review- The Wolf of Wall Street
The core of The Wolf of Wall Street can be summed up in three words Excess, Excess, Excess. Based on Jordan Belfort book the narrative follow the rise of Belfort from his internship at an old established Wall Street firm just before the October '87 crash, to his rebirth at a suburban penny stock shop then on to the development and flourishment of his own firm. The film is a hedonistic, gluttonous adventure in debauchery but it has many of the most memorable scenes of any movie released this year.
The piece begins somewhere in the middle at another morale building extravagant Stratton Oakmont event. This time a floor full of traders most appearing to be hopped up on some type of legal or illegal stimulant engage in a deep discussion on the proper method to score dwarf tossing before Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) and a colleague launch a fellow helmet wearing velcro clad human at a large circular target. The scene shifts back to the beginning of the story chronicling Belfort's first few months in the industry at the old money firm headed by Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) before the firm falls in the 87 market crash. The key moment in his rise is supplied by his first wife Teresa (Cristina Milioti) finding an ad for brokers in a barren post crash environment that gets Belfort into the world of penny stock trading where the commission is 50%, the clients are willing to accept large risk and the product is very volatile. From there Jordan has a chance meeting with Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) who quits his job on the spot to come work for him and the two open their own firm in an abandon garage. They gather a bunch of their misfit friends, armed with a sales script written by Belfort and a plan to target the top 1% they are off to the races.
Writer Terrence Winter delivers an excellent screenplay. The dialogue and banter between the core group at Stratton Oakmont is beat perfect. The discussions about characteristics of the three levels of hookers, the different phases the body encounters on the way to a Quaalude overdose and the prologue conversation to the opening scene where Belfort, Azoff and Nicky Koskoff (P. J. Byrne) discuss what is acceptable treatment of the fellow human that they are planning to throw at a target for fun are captivating. However the two best written scenes are an early morning fight between Belfort and his second wife Naomi (Margo Robbie) where she accuses him of calling out another woman's name in his sleep and an exchange between Belfort Azoff and Jordan's dad Max (Rob Reiner) who is hired to keep the Zoo at Stratton Oakmont in line and questions exorbitant Amex charges for a dinner and a second to a shady looking entertainment company. Even better is the crew's attempt to explain the charges ending with Max's question What type of hooker takes Amex followed quickly by the response a rich one.
Scorsese has all of his signature direction elements front and centre in the piece. The camera moves constantly to follow the action, the production's first scene is somewhere in the middle then the narrative circles back to the event. His lead character does the voiceover and on occasion breaks the fourth wall speaking directly to the audience. The activities on screen are manic, hectic fast paced and detailed. He seems to revel in the material and the predominance of a new drug to depict on screen producing the most compete depiction of Quaalude use and abuse ever to grace a movie screen. The Scorsese shooting eye shines throughout the film. Perhaps the best shot scene is the confrontation between Jordan and Theresa at the entrance to the Trump Tower. The camera captures Theresa's disappointment in Jordan and her emotion in a three camera shot from behind each of the characters and the third camera situated across the street to provide scale to the scene.
Leonardo DiCaprio produces his best performance since The Aviator as Jordan Belfort. He indulges, indulges some more and then takes it to another level. His performance is memorable in so many scenes that it is easy to loose count. His firm is a modern day Sodom and Gomorra with DiCapiro setting the tone and pushing beyond all of his colleagues in abuse of every sin imaginable. Jonah Hill continues to grow and impress with his work onscreen. As trusted colleague and second in command Donnie Azoff he bursts on screen immediately quitting his job after learning how much money Belfort made the month before. He is constantly riding Jordan's meanest and toughest friend from the neighbourhood Brad wonderfully portrayed by Jon Bernthal of Walking Dead fame, and performs a couple of flat out lewd acts when he first meets Jordan's future second wife Naomi then again when the subpoenas begin to arrive at Stratton Oakmont. Margot Robbie is also notable as Naomi. She uses her female charms on several occasions to get what she wants from Jordan including a very painful scene for any male watching the film when she details how she is going to deny Jordan any intimate favours for his transgressions outside of the home. Matthew McConaughey tops of an excellent cinematic year with a brief appearance as an early mentor giving Jordan some invaluable knowledge of the nature of Wall Street and the essential tools a broker needs to survive.
The Wolf of Wall Street is the cinematic equivalent of over eating at your favourite steak restaurant followed by a 7-course meal at your regular Italian joint. There is so much stimulation in the script and on screen that the three hour runtime flashes by. The subject matter is harsh, there are no characters to root for, the white collar criminals appear to get off lightly as they usually do but it's a spot on portrayal of the late 80's early 90's time period that I highly recommend and it will be a film that I will revisit many times in the future.
**** out of 4.
The Wolf of Wall Street | Martin Scorsese | U.S.A. | 2013 | 180 Minutes.
Tags: Wall Street, Stock Manipulation, Money Laundering, Quaaludes, FBI Investigation, White Collar Crime, Late 80's. Swiss Banking.