Thursday, 30 January 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street: Excessive Success

DiCaprio and Scorsese come out to play again, and TWOWS is another addition to the dinky director's long list of masterpieces. You're only supposed to have ONE masterpiece, Marty. Greedy.

The film tells the story of Jordan Belfort: Stockbroker as he works his way up the precariously balanced Wall Street ladder to success and excess. 

Many have accused the film of glamourising Belfort's selfish, superficial lifestyle, but I'm willing to bet that being an ultrarich dickbag is probably a pretty glamourous way of life. If the movie appears to have no conscience regarding the people Jordan fleeces and steps on on his way to the top, it is surely only because Jordan himself has none. 

Some of my favourite lead performances this awards season are unconscionable wangbrains (hey, Llewyn Davis) but Belfort is the king. Anybody looking for an indictment of the lifestyle in the film needs to look beyond the cars and the hookers and the expensive suits and simply see DiCaprio's barnstorming performance. 

Belfort is a man seduced by his own ego, a man who believes his own legend whole-heartedly, and the film presents us with an unflinching look at a roaring, maniacal man-child who is neither as smart as he thinks he is nor as evil as we'd like him to be. Belfort is a self-aggrandising chancer, and the movie allows DiCaprio to manifest that self-delusion in a hilariously unctuous, drug-frenzied performance which is possibly the actor's best. 

DiCaprio attacks each scene with a vigorous physicality which will surprise many, delivering coke fuelled speeches like a be-suited frat leader, body-popping like an over-confident uncle and, in the already legendary Quaalude binge setpiece, exhibiting the slapstick skills of a wreckhead Buster Keaton. 

Against the combined might of slavery and AIDS, DiCaprio will probably not win best actor at the Oscars, but he flipping well should. If only for the bit where he gets his foot stuck in the car door. 

DiCaprio is ably supported by Jonah Hill - providing a much more nuanced performance than his comedy gnashers and poolside masturbation might suggest - as a toady sidekick, Margot Robbie proves herself much more than a pretty face as Belfort's radiant but prickly lust-interest, Rob Reiner is amusingly irate as his long-suffering father, and there are amusing few-sceners from people like Matthew McGarnickle and Spike Jonze. 

Scorsese remains the most consistent movie maker of his, and perhaps any generation. While his peers retire to their vinyards, tread artistic water or sell their back catalogue to the mouse house, Scorsese is knocking out vital and varied cinema that most directors half his age couldn't conceive of. A freewheeling improvisational tone and a jukebox of 90s hits combine with the customary Scorsese visual panache to create a piece that can rest easy alongside Marty's best. 

It's three hours of frothy, garish nihilism devoid of any visible morality, and it is ceaselessly entertaining. Belfort learns no lessons and resolutely refuses to grow as a character, but maybe that's the point? Don't we live in a world where the money men are free to do whatever the hell they want and walk away with minimal or non-existent punishment?

This is a film about how greed, exploitation and self-obsession are the routes to power in western society. Belfort is a caricature of the 1%, having all the fun on the unseen, huddled masses' dime.

We don't see Belfort's victims on the screen because they're in the audience.

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