You are here

The Wolf of Wall Street

Wolf of Wall Street

Would you buy a movie ticket from this man?

dir: Martin Scorsese

The Eighties Onslaught Continues!

I don't want to see any more films set in the 80s any more, at least for a while. That toxic decade is being over-represented at the moment, and I'm sick of it.

I mean, sure, it was a great time that a lot of awesome people lived during, way better people than those born in the 90s, but enough is enough.

"Enough is enough" is not a phrase that people like Jordan Belfort must have heard often enough, or accepted, ever. I don't think it's a phrase Peter Jackson understands either. And I don't think anyone says it often enough to Martin Scorsese, because here he has a 3 hour film celebrating the excesses and sheer horribleness of Jordan Belfort and almost every single person around him.

Yes, it's way too much film. It felt like, after the 2 hour mark, that I was watching the Director's Cut version you watch years down the track way after the cinematic release of a successful film. A two-hour version comes out, 2 and a half if it's Oscar-bait, which this most definitely is, and then years later a Director's Cut DVD comes out adding all the stuff the studios forced the director to cut out in order to not test the tolerance level of audiences too much.

Nu-uh. You can't do that to Martin Scorsese anymore. The man is a national treasure. He is probably the most beloved, most adored American director living today. Combine him with the megawattage of A List superstar Leonardo DiCaprio, and no-one will say no to them despite the fact that they should have, very loudly, just like no-one said no enough to Jordan Belfort until it was way too late, or at least he was beyond being capable of listening.

And yet I'm trying to figure out when that 'too late' time was, since Jordan Belfort, that supreme piece of shit as depicted in The Wolf of Wall Street, still lives and breathes, and barely, just barely paid at all for any of his many crimes.

His main crime is being Jordan Belfort. What a guy. What. A. Guy. In a slightly different reality, he would be President of the United States for life.

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason and infinite in faculty! Or some crap like that that Shakespeare once tweeted about.

What a piece of shit is the man at the centre of this flick and its constant flow of excesses upon excesses, how lacking in self-awareness and infinite in his capacity for monstrous selfishness.

Of course one can't accuse the people who made the film or star in the film of celebrating and approving of this... this cavalcade of shitty behaviour, or of these awful people. At least, intellectually, considering how accomplished but mentally and spiritually retarded the main characters appear to be, you're telling yourself, way before the ending, that they couldn't possibly be saying that this was such an incredible wild ride, and no-one died, and a lot of drugs and sex were had, and what's the big deal anyway?

I mean, I came away from the film thinking "Jeez, it looks like they had a lot of fun, and they were shitty people and... that's it, nothing else?"

Scorsese himself spent a lot of the 70s using Tony Montana - Scarface like mountains of cocaine, so it's not like he's unfamiliar with drug-fuelled partying or horrible excesses. He doesn’t merely represent scenes of debauchery and drug abuse with relish and high energy: he depicts them like they're the most fun anyone ever had or will ever have.

Scorsese now is an old man in his 70s, and he's presumably not tooting on the devil's dandruff or huffing marching powder on a fifteen-minute basis anymore. But it really seems like he really wants us to know what it's like to have shitloads of money, shitloads of drugs and absolutely no conscience to divert you from whatever instant gratification you want to gratify instantly.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not getting on some moral high horse or judging people for having a good time. I think hedonism is wonderful, sexual depravity is tops and drugs are awesome! Just don't tell my daughter that.

It's simplistic to try to say that Scorsese is glamourising this stuff, because it doesn't appear that he's setting out to lionise Belfort, or to take The System to task for letting such a piece of shit get to the top of the pile. Capitalism is whatever it is, and the film seems to depict the spectacular rise of this ruthless doofus not to the inherent corruption of 'the system' that allows shysters and shitbags to triumph, but to Belfort's personality, his sheer force of will, and to the cult-like group of people he was able to group around him.

You can say that Scorsese has long seemed focussed on gangsters and goons and such, but, looking at Goodfellas through a slightly different lens, as I am now after having watched this, it seems to me that he's more interested in depicting the group dynamics that occur amongst a group of people united by a messianic figure. Belfort is messianic not in the sense that he's going to lead the chosen people to Vegas, or turn strawberries into Quaaludes, but in that he can get a whole bunch of people to believe in him, and to believe in what he's peddling, which is the path to disgusting levels of wealth.

The entire lie of the stock broking charade is set out for us early on: the only person making money from the stock market is not you, it's the broker. The brokers have no idea whether a stock's going to go up or down. They make their money from the commission on the trade, pure and simple, and they never give a damn about what happens after. This is explained to Jordan on his first day as a stockbroker on Wall Street, by an insane man who does blow openly whenever he feels like it (Matthew McConaughey, in a too short and deranged cameo).

Jordan's first day also seems to coincide with the stock market crash of 1987, so he's left to find out the best way to achieve global dominion on his own. He embarks upon a plan whereby he and his cohorts, who are mostly a group of morons who he trains to be guns at high-pressure cold calling.

Despite the fact that most of these guys seem like tying their shoelaces in a synchronised fashion would be too much for them, they all come out of it like champs, and Jordan makes the leap necessary into taking their business to the Next Level, which means coming up with a name that sounds like old money Wall Street: Stratton Oakmont. It's a name that just reeks of Chesterfield couches, fine Cuban cigars and cucumber sandwiches.

What goes on in that place, as in, the way it's depicted in the film is just flat-out crazy. I'm not in a position to argue whether it actually happened like that, or with such frequency, but I just find it beyond insane. The inflow of money has basically unmoored these people from their consciences and their basic decency, to the point where people are fucking openly on their desks, and doing more hardcore drugs and booze than every episode of Mad Men rolled into one. They're partying like rock stars, in a way that even rock stars would say "hey man, slow down, you're going to break something."

This frenzied atmosphere keeps building and building, and keeps being piled on, as if to say "These people aren't going to stop unless something catastrophic happens to them", and it has the effect of numbing the audience, I have to say, and it was probably deliberate. It helps that this is played for laughs, as in, I would say 95 % of this flick is played as a comedy, as a comedic depiction of drug addiction, group mentalities and mindless excess, of Olympian arrogance levels on all counts.

And mostly, I would say it works. Of course it's exhausting, but so it should be. The sequence whereby Jordan comes undone through the magic of chemistry, when he's desperately trying to get home to tell his despicable friend Donnie (the loathsome Jonah Hill, even more loathsome that usual) to not use the telephone, is not only one of the funniest things I saw all year, but one of the funniest things I think I've ever seen. Watching DiCaprio trying to get into his Lamborghini had me laughing so hard I think I did myself some internal damage.

There isn't a comeuppance in the end, or at least a satisfying one, in my book, but there is that 5 % left over that clearly isn't comedic, whose purpose is to squash whatever lingering charmed feelings we might have left if Jordan in fact ever charmed us like he charmed his cult of loyal scumbags. It's unambiguous in its ugliness, and it was a necessary corrective, I think.

There's nothing like a guy beating up his wife or endangering the life of his children to remind you that, yes, he does deserve our disgust and contempt, not our admiration.

Even with that final nail in his character's coffin, it's not enough to completely squander the copious amounts of goodwill the film engenders along the way. Scorsese is too good at his craft to do otherwise. So many strong scenes stick in the mind long after the curtain has (thankfully) fallen. My personal favourite is the scene where Jordan, the genius, invites the FBI agent (Kyle Chandler) who's investigating his shady dealings onto his yacht for a 'chat'. The sheer hubris and stupidity of this action doesn't stop it from being a tremendous scene. It shows how clouded Jordan's judgement is from his own belief in his own awesomeness that he can't see how fatally stupid such an action is, but, most importantly, it's perfectly played on all sides.

I don't particularly like DiCaprio, and I loathe the character he plays here, one who shouldn't be awarded with reflected glory through DiCaprio getting some Oscar acknowledgement, but it's impossible for me to not find it a compelling rendering of this horrible guy, this odd world and the strange permutations it sometimes throws up into the universe. Whatever it is that he does here, and most of it probably falls under the category of "hopelessly hammy overacting" also falls perfectly in line with the material, the deeply disturbing material. It may have been too long of a journey, but I wasn't bored by any of it, and it's still virtuoso filmmaking at its finest, ugly though it may be.

8 times a guy can only hit bottom so many times before you realise there's no bottom left out of 10

“Let me tell you something. There's no nobility in poverty. I've been a poor man, and I've been a rich man. And I choose rich every fucking time.” – eh, poverty’s not so bad after the first 15 years or so – The Wolf of Wall Street