In spite of the current economic climate, greed and wealth are things that drive us. And according to another famous film set in Wall Street, greed, for want of a better word, is good. But in spite of its trappings, The Wolf of Wall Street points out that this isn’t all that it’s meant to be. Yet another biopic based off of the memoirs written by the titular character, it concentrates on a period of years in the 1990s of the life of New York stockbroker, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio, Shutter Island, The Departed). He starts at an established stock broker firm under the wing of Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey, Mud, Dallas Buyers Club) before deciding to make it on his own with his partner Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill, Moneyball, This is the End). From there on, the audience bear witness to Belfort amassing insane amounts of wealth, fuelling excessive amounts of alcohol, drug and sex fuelled debauchery.
Director and frequent DiCaprio collaborator Martin Scorsese perfectly captures the tone of the film. Primarily a black comedy, it’s the only movie I’ve watched that can have the audience in stitches one minute, and biting their nails because of the immense tension the next. Of course, due to the nature of the source material, it’s not one for the easily offended. This is encapsulated by DiCaprio’s performance, who uses his superb acting range to not make this change feel awkward, but smooth and gripping. But due to the intense focus on Belfort, and the film’s huge running time of 3 hours, it started to drag a little towards the end. If it was just 20 minutes or so shorter, and the ending was handled a little better, it would have been perfect. Scorsese also lets Belfort narrate to the camera at times, as well as listening to his thoughts, breaking the fourth wall and filling the audience in via exposition. This expands his character and adds to the comedy. The highlight of the film was a scene at a country club, and only DiCaprio could make rolling on the floor for five minutes that funny.
This style of humour also plays off well by Jonah Hill, and I was surprised to see that he could pull off some of the more serious scenes as well. Was this deserving of a Best Supporting Actor nomination? I’m not entirely sure, but it was entertaining nonetheless. The female lead, Belfort’s second wife Naomi (Margot Robbie, About Time, Pan Am) was shockingly underdeveloped, and I can see why this drew some feminist criticism. There are hardly any female characters in it, and when they are, they’re one-dimensional. However, as The Wolf of Wall Street is told entirely from Belfort’s perspective and he is a huge chauvinist, I can understand why Scorsese took this route.
But the same can’t be said for some other minor characters that could have done with some expanding: Cristin Milioti (How I Met Your Mother), Jean Dujardin (The Artist) and Jon Favreau (Iron Man) all could have had some extra scenes. And I was shocked that the aforementioned McConaughey was only at the beginning of the film, and along with a surprising appearance by Joanna Lumley, they both had all-too short, but sweet, roles.
With an exceptional lead performance by DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street was a truly fantastic watch that deserved all the nominations it received. On the outside, it may appear to worship Belfort’s chauvinistic, hedonistic lifestyle, but in fact, Scorsese turns it on its head to criticise it. Its only flaws are some underdeveloped characters, and that it kind of runs out of steam towards the end. If it wasn’t for some exceptional competition by the likes of 12 Years a Slave and Gravity, it would have done better at the Oscars. It wasn’t the Best Picture, but certainly the most entertaining.