Full disclosure. I never read the book. Like 98% of you, I was bored and felt like being entertained for three hours. Di Caprio has been entertaining me ever since Shutter Island, and so Wolf of Wall Street was always going to be a no brainer. Everyone loves it, I had a seat in gold class with a lap full of $28 nachos and a cup of tap water that they tried to charge me $5 for and I was set.
First impression was 'shit this reminds me of The Great Gatsby'. Just that theme of MONEY. Scorsese applies the hip-hop rule of thumb here: give em what they want, not what they can see. People absolutely adore watching rich people live completely out of control lives. I don't really know why we find this unattainable situation entertaining. Harry Potter works off of the same human weakness. For 6 months after I read The Philosophers Stone I used an old glitter stick as a magic wand and dreamt of the day that Wingardium Leviosa would actually work. Every person sitting in the cinema today would kill to be in the position that Belfort worked to be in, and because it was so masterfully crafted the movie is a triumph just for the sheer lunacy of the circumstances and the irresistible lifestyle we all dream of.
These bells and whistles put bums on seats, but they rarely win favour with the crusty old critics that consider themselves armchair experts on everything from World War 1 to the correct way to do a line of cocaine from a hookers bottom. Thankfully, underlying this smörgåsbord of debauchery there is a sensible plot and a strong, fairly obvious but important theme that reveals itself in stark multi colour at the end of the movie.
Jordan Belfort is a real person, who actually lived this life, and yes he did end up becoming that cheesy motivational speaker you see just before the credits roll. That this is a true story only adds shock value. This dysmorphic idea that the 80s was a decade unto itself, and those currently employed in the profession in no way mirror his mind set. We follow Di Caprio as he illustrates the life of Belfort; from his humble, money hungry beginnings to the absolute height of his powers, where his cocaine habit rivalled that of John Belushi. His eventual downfall feels more inevitable than an election backflip, and is dealt with quickly and quite painlessly, which is interesting in itself.
Throughout the movie, Di Caprio sells the audience a stunning lifestyle, characterised by mountains of drugs, money and women, the three pillars of success. Jonah Hill is brilliant in his role as the devoted puppy dog friend with his masters heart and will of steel (eagle eyed viewers may remember he played this role to perfection in the brilliant Moneyball with Brad Pitt, so he has form). Margo Robbie is superb as well, thankfully managing to bury our ghastly accent (come on, it does sound stupid next to that yank drawl) and deliver a powerhouse of her own that may centre around nudity but adds weight to her character and the story. She begins as just another trophy, another impossibility that Belfort eats for lunch. Constant nudity and depravity further dents her image, yet somehow she slowly turns the tide of cocaine and sex around to become the devoted mother and deeply human woman who desperately cares for her kids and stands up to the man who has stood up to everyone else in the world.
Alongside the main 3 characters, we are treated only to cursory glances at the lives of the other players. Matthew McConaughey proves his acting chops yet again but disappears quickly, and Belfort's minions who morph in to his team ala The Social Network are inducted only briefly before taking on executive roles. In fact the entire downfall of Belfort is attributed to a character who's name I cannot even recall, except that he had a rug. This isn't a criticism. Taking any of the spotlight away from Di Caprio and Belfort would be a misstep. The only truly missed opportunity I belive was in the lack of development of the FBI agent, Denham, played capably by Kyle Chandler. His lack of presence took away a key element of tension or any sense of sobering justice for almost the entirety of the movie. Even when he does play a role, on Belfort's yacht, he leaves consciousness too soon afterwards and we fall back in to the security of the money.
Two of Di Caprio's biggest movies, Shutter Island and Inception, left the viewer with a giant unanswered question at the end. As this movie progresses, and we watch Belfort tumble dramatically in the vein of Tony Montana, we are left with a glaring question that has had industry insiders stand up and be heard over this movie. Do we root for Belfort, or do we relish in his demise, safe in the knowledge that justice has been done? The problem being that Di Caprio has played such a wonderful role we have come to somehow identify with him, despite his lavish urges. The scene where he OD's on Quaaludes and loses all normal functioning provoked the cinema I was in to erupt in raucous laughter. But hang on.. He drives whilst totally ruined, stumbles in to his home where his child is, and proceeds to nearly kill his best friend whilst putting his heavily pregnant wife under immense strain. The scene that finally signals his change of mindset, after he orders his yacht be driven immediately to Monaco despite the whimpering pleas of his captain, with his wife and best friend on board, feels like a perfunctory admission of guilt, one too subtle (either intentionally or otherwise) to resonate at all. I honestly sat in the theatre during the obligatory scene of Agent Denham on the train and questioned whether I really cared about those everyday people that Belfort fucked over. I saw him performing as a motivational speaker, looking in to the eyes of the desperate and honest, pitching himself as a straight and narrow character, and I actually questioned whether I was rooting for him or them.Belfort's demise is dealt with so swiftly that it only registers as a blip on the movies gargantuan 3 hour running time. What is Scorsese trying to get across here? Surely the simple act of agreeing to wear a wire and 'rat out' his friends is enough to slash this character's hero status. Yet it doesn't feel like that. The message that greed is bad and you will be punished is blatantly there if you so choose to accept it. But Di Caprio and Scorsese work so hard for 2 and a half hours to convince you it isn't that the final half hour just doesn't resonate with me.
95% of punters will leave this movie satisfactorily entertained. For those other 5% I sit on the fence with you. As entertaining a movie this is, I left feeling slightly unclean. That Jordan Belfort (the real one) will recieve royalties for this film just sits oddly with me. He was even on a local radio station recently, Triple M. I am well aware he has served his time and must still pay restitution to those he wronged, but surely redemption is not so easily attained?