The Wolf of Wall Street -- Delirious and Manic Deconstruction of Moral Erosion

                                 Martin Scorsese has never been a director, easy to pigeonhole. He is famous for the intense, dark, violent movies like “Taxi Driver”, “Raging Bull”, “Goodfellas”, and “The Departed”, although he has traveled into unconventional territories with “Kundun”, “Age of Innocence”, “After Hours.”  After “Casino”, Scorsese didn’t tackle the theme of organized crime. He is a kind of perfect guy to wield an arrogant character without passing judgment on them. After nearly two decades, Scorsese has once again returned to detailed portrait of true-life corruption, but this time he takes on the bad behavior in the financial sector, rather than the Italian mobsters. The operatically-scaled “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013) is a rare openly comedic film of the director and it is madly entertaining, not only due to its live-wire energy, but also because of the exuberant performance by Di Caprio.

                               The charismatic sociopath, Jordan Belfort’s decadent lifestyle was vividly explained in his best-selling book, which was held together by Scorsese and Di Caprio’s electric energy. The movie version of “Wolf” doesn’t border within the limits of R rating. The non-stop barrage of drugs and debauchery is showcased with the same sinister smile. Earlier in the movie, Belfort( Leonardo Di Caprio) snorts coke off a prostitute’s backside, gets fellated while driving and nearly crash lands the private helicopter, while remaining high on drugs. This first reel sets out the tone for what’s about to come. Belfort is penny-stock con man, who has been a millionaire at the age of 26. He has all the characters of a villain – drug-addict, womanizer and money-minded. He had his own investment firm called ‘Stratton Oakmont.’ The most trusted associate in the firm is the dazed –looking Donnie (Jonah Hill).

                              Belfort’s team was hell-bent on bending the rules and on looting out ordinary peoples out of millions. The drug and hooker habits, yachts and huge mansions only necessitated their money needs. Belfort gives bloodcurdling speeches to his employees and suggests them that whatever problems they may have, they should solve it by getting rich. In 1998, Belfort was indicted for securities fraud and money laundering. After giving away many of his associates to the FBI, Belfort served a three year prison time in a sophisticated prison. Now, he is motivational speaker and it’s hard to detect his soaring fees now.

                             Di Caprio collaborates with Scorsese for the fifth time, but this is the first time, we encounter such a wild, loose-cannon performance from the actor. Whether crawling across the floor in the drug-induced drool phase or giving pep talks to his faithful broker disciples, this highly paid Hollywood actor just doesn’t play the part; he inhales it into his bloodstream. He doesn’t feel protective of vanity or tries to bring in a sense of cool. Belfort’s memoir starts like a cautionary tale to the rich, but what we get after 500+ pages is the boasting of sinful plays (“I partied like a rock star, lived like a king”). He delivers a wages of sin message only at the very end. He insufficiently talks about the boiler-room ethics and regrets for the swindling of 200$ million. Nothing has changed from the book to movie, but Di Caprio galvanizing execution turns Belfort into a sympathetic character.

                            Terrence Winter’s permeating script resembles Scorsese movies about underworld figures, especially the first-person narration. The narration thrives to elaborate on depraved activity, the illegality, and immorality, which works on a viewer, who enjoys a privileged access to individuals whom they’d abhor in real life. Scorsese’s other long-time collaborators are cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto and Editor Thelma Schoonmaker. They both are at the top of their game and their exuberant commitment makes it compulsively watchable. Only a film-maker of Scorsese’s prowess could make a three-hour movie with an infectious energy. Most of ‘based on turn story’ often takes the dramatic note, but he plays much of it for comedy and farce. The hallucinatory slapstick scenes were made under the influence of his favorite comedian Jerry Lewis. The most interesting interjection by Scorsese is the scene, where Jordan's drug ingestion is juxtaposed with a clip of Popeye downing a can of spinach. Another impressive directing technique is the one he uses in a domestic confrontation scene, where Belfort’s drug addiction and nastiness finally (and literally), hits home.

                              The vast supporting cast perfectly supports the protagonist. The drug addled Jonah Hill is the consummate choice for playing the dark comedic role of Donnie. Rob Reiner’s nuanced portrayal of old-accountant dad is absolutely hilarious. Another casually funny character is Matthew McConaughey’s Mark Hanna, who earnestly advises Belfort about masturbation over a multi-martini lunch. As FBI agent, Kyle Chandler projects the virtue of a middle-class man and his face off game with Di Caprio in the yacht is one of the movie’s greatest scenes.

                             From McConaughey’s throat singing to Di Caprio’s viciously funny physical acting, “Wolf of Wall Street” is composed of several memorable moments, but it rather seduces the viewers with the intimate vignettes of Belfort’s life, rather than giving saner voices to the monotonous amorality. The protagonist’s moral rival, the FBI agent gets only two substantive scenes. The subway ride he takes home, towards the end, speaks volumes than Belfort’s ending in the book. Another Scorsese moment that trumped the book was the last frame, where the director turns Belfort’s gaze on the audience itself, suggesting that it is our own avarice and need that creates greedy Wall Street monsters.

                          “The Wolf of Wall Street” is the story of a wealth-consuming anti-hero, who justifies his money scams by saying, “I know how to spend it better.” However, Scorsese’s decision to turn a decadent tale to a roller-coaster ride, full of warped comedy really works. It’s a remarkably funny and fascinating movie, but stops short of being a masterpiece. 


Rated R for sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language throughout, and for some violence


Hiral Trivedi said...

It has humor and thrill in the perfect proportion. When Di Caprio announced that he needs a break from movies for some time, I was heartbroken. But, with this kind of work (read hard), he deserves a break. I love reading your reviews, especially your personal touch.

Najm Nisa said...

Sounds promising ! Reading all these positive reviews can't wait to watch the movie !

Anonymous said...

Even though he may not win, I just hope that Leo gets a nomination he so rightfully deserves. Good review Arun.

arun kumar said...

@ Hiral Trivedi, Thanks for the comment. Yeah, Di Caprio definitely needs a break. He's been doing excellent roles for the past decade without caring about any awards recognitions.

@ Nijam Nisa, Do watch the movie and please give your opinion.

@, Thank you. Leo has got a nomination now, but I still have doubts whether he will win. However, Leo won't care about Oscars. He will keep on doing what he does best.