The Wolf of Wall Street

This Martin Scorsese directed film starring Leonardo DiCaprio is the latest instalment in the recent run of adaptations of ‘true life’ tales- 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle being the others- and what it lacks in subtlety and nuance it more than compensates for in its frantically paced depiction of life in the fast lane for the high flying jet set with other people’s money to burn. The films agenda is clear from the outset with Belfort –a Golden Globe winning performance from DiCaprio- claiming ‘As far back as I can remember all I wanted to be was a stockbroker’ merely confirming what most of us already feel towards bankers, investors and stockbrokers: that they are unscrupulous, dishonest and outright liars.
Belfort does nothing throughout this movie to dissuade anyone that he is any different from these preconceptions and not only reinforces these beliefs but reveals himself to be among one of the more despicable and loathsome of the breed. It is a fast paced film with bacchanalian debauchery fuelled by sex and drugs-Quaaludes and Cocaine mainly but a few puffs at the crack pipe are also partaken in- followed by more sex and even more drugs. Then there is some nudity – notably only full frontal females but women are seemingly secondary in every way in this blatantly sexist story- until you feel that you yourself are either on a sympathetically ecstatic high or nauseating comedown.
Admittedly some of these scenes are highly amusing but after three hours the same theme becomes a little tiresome and you start to wonder-Belfort aside- whether any of these characters live outside the one dimensional caricature they portray. Certainly Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, Jean Dujardin and Margot Robbie admirably support Di Caprio’s performance but only Robbie as Naomi –Belfort’s glamorous second wife- elicits any feelings of sympathy as her character is the only one given a slightly human touch, the others are all creeps in extremis. Joanna Lumley makes a welcome appearance as Naomi’s aunt who allows herself to be inveigled in Belfort’s scheming to move his dishonestly earned millions out of the States into Switzerland once it becomes clear that the dodgy dealings of Belfort’s firm, Stratton Oakmont, are attracting the wrong kind of attention. .
This wrong kind of attention arrives in the shape of Kyle Chandler’s FBI agent, Patrick Denham, determined to bring Belfort down and the scene between these two on Belford’s luxury yacht is a pivotal one which reveals character depth and opposing attitudes as these two verbally spar with each other and it becomes clear that this is all not going to end well for Belfort as his arrogance merely makes his comedown a little easier. At one juncture he is offered the option of walking away and is advised by those closest to him to take it but addicted as much to the highs of financial gain and being untouchable from the law as he is to drugs, drink and sex he finds this impossible and therefore unthinkable.
This is a totally exhausting film which slightly overstays its welcome. Its main flaw however does not lie with the performances but with the fact that none of the characters-especially central protagonist Belford- are remotely likeable and after three hours of screen time they are no longer amusing, as they are in the beginning, but merely irritating. It is still a highly worthwhile piece of cinema though as when it hits its highs-narcotically influenced or otherwise- it takes its audience with it!

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