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Review: the Wolf of Wall Street

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: February 07, 2014

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IT’S CHILDISH I know, but I still get a slight thrill from going to see an 18 certificate film, despite the fact that on my next birthday, I will be 34 – old enough to have a child who would themselves be old enough to see such a film.

An 18 certificate does not guarantee a good film – far from it – but it usually means you are unlikely to be bored.

And though the Wolf of Wall Street clocks in at exactly three hours, I was certainly not bored for one second of this engaging, hedonistic, over-the-top and above all, hilarious, whirlwind of a movie.

From the opening scene where a lion walks through the trading floor of a brokerage firm, you get the feeling this is a film which will require you to suspend your sense of belief.

And yet, it is a true story. The lion, the drugs, the chimpanzee on rollerskates, the drugs, the prostitutes, the drugs, the luxury yacht which crashed at sea and, more than anything, the drugs.

True, at least, according to the memoirs of Jordan Belfort, whose life story Martin Scorsese and Leonardo Di Caprio weave in front of our eyes in visceral technicolour.

Scorsese and Di Caprio combine for the fifth time to tell the story of Belfort, a New York stockbroker who ran a firm engaging in securities fraud and corruption on Wall Street in the 1990s.

We first meet Belfort at the height of his debauchery, and are then taken back to 1987, when he first takes a stockbroker job at an established Wall Street firm.

His boss Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) advises him to adopt a lifestyle of casual sex and cocaine to succeed.

McConaughey is in the film for less than 20 minutes, but his is a memorable cameo - one of many in the film including the likes of Rob Reiner, Jean Dujardin, Jon Favreau and even Joanna Lumley - and delivers a wonderfully hypnotic monologue explaining that what they do means nothing - but can make them millionaires.

Belfort is eager to get started, but he is barely into the job when the firm fails after Black Monday, October 19, when stock markets around the world crashed, shedding a huge value in a very short time.

Belfort is unemployed in a poor job market for stockbrokers, but his wife Teresa (Cristin Milioti) encourages him to take a job with a small Long Island firm dealing in penny stocks.

His aggressive pitching style, combined with the higher commission rate of penny stocks, soon earns him a small fortune.

He befriends Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), a salesman living in the same apartment complex and they decide to go into business together, dragooning several of Jordan’s friends, most of them experienced marijuana dealers to form Stratton Oakmont.

Despite a name which suggests its founders “chiselled their name right into Plymouth Rock”, Stratton Oakmont it is essentially a pump and dump scam, where the salesman convince investors to buy up huge volumes of worthless stock, making themselves a tasty commission but nearly always losing their clients’ money.

A decadent lifestyle of lavish parties, sex and drugs follows, and Belfort, who refused to even have a drink in his first liquid lunch with Hanna, begins to regularly use prostitutes, and becomes addicted to cocaine and Quaaludes.

He meets Naomi Lapaglia (Margot Robbie) at one of his parties, and begins an affair which results in his divorce.

However, when FBI Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) begins investigating Stratton Oakmont, and Belfort in particular, his whole world comes under threat.

The film has been deemed controversial for its moral ambiguity, presence of drugs, and use of animals, while containing the most uses of a particular swearword (569 in total) - but also nominated for five Oscars, including best picture and best director.

I cannot defend some of the depiction of, and attitude towards women, nor the brief uses of trained animals (though none were harmed), but I do question that the film glamourises the lifestyle of Belfort and co, another accusation levelled at it.

Though often hilarious, the protagonists are deplorable and largely irredeemable (even a brief hint of loyalty between them is soon quashed), but I for one did not come out of the cinema with any desire to emulate them.

If anything, I empathised more with Chandler’s droll, relatively impoverished and yet seemingly content cop, which to me is a sign that the film is on the right side of the moral dilemmas it poses.

Belfort and his mob are criminals, white-collar criminals whose principal victims are the top one per cent of America’s rich, but criminals nonetheless, and they all do get their comeuppance.

The Wolf of Wall Street is no Goodfellas, the Scorcese film it is closest to in style, nor does it rank as high as Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, Casino or King of Comedy in my estimation of that director’s oeuvre.

But I laughed more at this film than anything Scorcese has made before, and it has some brilliant set pieces, which benefit from the extended screen time they are given.

Some of the snappy interchanges between Di Caprio and Hill, as well as an unforgettable scene where the duo overdose on ‘ludes, could well live as long in the memory as the “funny how?” scene from Goodfellas, and that is no meant feat.

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