I pretty much went into The Wolf of Wall Street knowing exactly what to expect; drugs, sexual content, swearing (lots of swearing) and quite possibly a sore behind from the 3 hour length. And I also knew that it would make me question some of the issues raised within the film, is it glamorising all these things which probably shouldn’t be glamorised? Does that matter? But first, let me review The Wolf of Wall Street.
I’m a bit Scorsese fan, I’ve loved pretty much everything he’s done, right from the first short art house films right up until his work on Boardwalk Empire (maybe the exception to the rule is Shutter Island, which I am indifferent to). I really, really enjoyed Wolf of Wall Street, I think it’s exceptionally well made, and whilst it’s on the heavy side (3 hours long) I don’t think this negatively impacts it. Some scenes are a bit drawn out, but in the overall film they are necessary. It’s incredibly funny whilst being totally and utterly abhorrent, I mean, what do you expect from a film where the first scene is Leonardo DiCaprio snorting coke from a naked woman’s butt crack? Not exactly subtle. All you need to know about the content from here on in, is in this scene. Wolf of Wall Street is a film with no moral upholding, no real reason for being this despicable apart from ‘it’s fun’. There are no underlying reasons for Jordan’s motivation, no heartfelt story, no tragic background, just pure unadulterated lust and greed. Although a tragic back story wouldn’t excuse the behaviour. But, Wolf of Wall Street has been made to leave that decision with the audience, after all the real life Jordan Belfort has been embraced for his motivational speeches, and still continues to work successfully (albeit away from anything remotely financial) to this day.
One of the most notable parts of Wolf of Wall Street is the spectacular casting, particularly Jonah Hill who totally smashes his role of Donnie Azoff. Seriously, hand this man an Oscar. And also relatively unknown Margot Robbie, (Aussies, you might recognise her from Neighbours, well, when she’s wearing clothes) plays her role very well. It would be easy to dismiss her as a bit of screen candy, given she regularly takes her clothes off and is the typical blonde starlet type, actually she works well against Leo. By the end you sympathise with her, you feel for her, she’s completely drained and destroyed.
The film itself is beautifully polished, we wouldn’t expect anything less from Scorsese. Long lingering shots and scenes add to the ‘mythology’ of it all, the dinner scene with Matthew McConaughey, the overdosing/ludes kick in car scene, it makes for painful watching sometimes. Elements of earlier Scorsese films make their way into Wolf, the narration reminiscent of Henry Hill in Goodfellas and Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. It’s definitely an instantly recognisable Scorsese film, undisputed master of debauched human excess on-screen.
So, I think you can probably gather, I loved the film. Cant wait until it comes out on DVD (do I want to see butt-crack-cocaine-session in Blu-Ray?) but one thought I left with when the credits rolled, was the similarities between Wolf and one of the most controversial films of all time, Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Some of the early scenes, the ones in the office, the Vegas stag weekend, reminded me of the very final scene in A Clockwork Orange, whether this is deliberate, they are very reminiscent of pure blood lust at questionable behaviour. Which got me thinking about the differences between the two. Now before you rush to comment ‘they are totally different films’, yes, they are. But their representation of excess and debauchery is very similar, and neither film condemns the actions of its main protagonists. A Clockwork Orange goes one step further by appearing to undermine normality and moral authority in its now infamous final scene.
The one thing which I think is a cause of concern is that Wolf of Wall Street could actually be described as an inspiring story of a man who makes himself successful, despite his questionable choices, ultimately is embraced by Western society as a totem for success. Which I’m not sure is the right thing. Jordan Belfont comes out of all this just serving 3 years (22 months in real life) and still maintains some semblance of normality and is actually revered for his motivational ability. Which leads me back to A Clockwork Orange, which was wholeheartedly condemned as violent pornography. But the excesses on display in Wolf, have the same motivation behind them as Alex’s, ‘because I can, because it’s fun’. And here lies the problem. Many people will see Jordan’s story as inspirational, his ruthless determination to succeed is something to be admired. It’s fair to say that many of the scenes in Wolf totally glamorize that kind of lifestyle. No one seems to suffer as a result of drugs, even the overdose scene is pretty funny. And as mentioned before, Jordan only serves 3 years, only because he sold out all his employees and friends. This isn’t aspirational, it’s depressing. The moral side of me wants to condemn Scorsese for making the filmic choices he did, but the film critic in me applauds him for showing Jordan’s life for how it actually was. Where is the line with films like this? Is it ok to show that actually despite destroying the lives of many he exploited (which is notably absent from the film) Jordan is the same as everyone else? Just wants to be good at something, just wants to succeed and provide the best life for himself? It’s a question that only an individual can decide once they’ve viewed the film.
All in all, I really enjoyed Wolf, I thought it was absolutely brilliant, the filmmaking and direction which has gone into it is astonishingly good. It’s thoroughly engaging and good fun to watch, but I do hope that audiences see Jordan Belfont for what he was, a selfish criminal who was hellbent on success, at any cost. Its come at a hugely relevant time, when bankers and stoke brokers are all in our bad books anyway, so maybe the context of it’s release serves as the condemnation. Had this been released before the global financial crash, then maybe it would have been in a much more negative way.