The Wolf of Wall Street

Dir: Martin Scorsese
Star: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler

It's just like Casino, only with stockbrokers replacing the gangsters. So, just the same then [says the ex-employee of HSBC!]. But anarcho-snark aside, the similarities are obvious: the era differs, but they tell similar "rise and fall" stories, based on actual events, of a man who initially intends to make an honest living, only to find the easy lure of filthy lucre to be too much for him to resist. That gives him all the trappings of success, including a trophy wife, but you can't keep in front of law enforcement forever, and in the end, he gets reeled in, and it all comes tumbling down. Oh, there's a sardonic musical commentary. And people say "Fuck" a lot. Here, it's junk bond fraudster Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio), who rises from a grunt in a shopping-mall boiler-room, to owner of his own brokerage, doing IPOs and all that cool shit, when not doing drugs, hookers or said trophy wife (Robbie). But what goes up. must come down, in the shape of dogged FBI agent Mark Hanna (Chandler), who is building a case against Belfort.

While certainly Scorsese being Scorsese, that also implies a certain degree of quality, and it does deliver on that front: even at almost three hours long, it's engrossing stuff, with DiCaprio genuinely acting, in a way I kinda forgotten he could. The rest of the cast is uniformly solid - including, of all people, Joanna Lumley - but there are a few too many scenes watching Belfort do drugs or other debauchery. This isn't Fear and Loathing, and he certainly isn't Hunter S. Thompson. I'm not sure about the moral approach either: while some of Scorsese's other anti-heroes have had redeeming qualities, it's hard to find much in Belfort, who appears almost entirely self-serving. I think the tone needs to be rather more condemnatory, considering his unpleasant and completely selfish crimes. But as a Caligula-like spectacle of financial criminality, it works almost impeccably, and is often surprisingly funny, albeit in a blackly ironic way, naturally. A few ticks short of greatness, yet hard to argue it as less than very good.

[February 2014]

Greed is good fun
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