Friday, January 24, 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street: A Decadent Jungle

After witnessing Martin Scorsese's Wolf of Wall Street, you'll need to pop a Valium to wind down from it's elevated portrayal of mass excess. A Scorsese picture can be recognised by many factors and one of these defining characteristics is energy. His filmmaking style exhibits an incredible sense of adrenaline, most notably in Goodfellas, Casino and The Departed, and with Wolf he has enhanced this spark to boiling point. With it's lightening speed dialogue and never ending source music audiences are taken on a dark, comedic roller coaster. Wolf pushes the envelope in the depiction of greed and decadence in American culture that would make ancient Rome blush.

There is no real plot, but more a landscape of anecdotes from the life of Jordan Belfort, a real-life, ruthless Wall Street broker played by Di Caprio. This is Di Caprio's strongest leading performance to date. Leo changed his course on his "Titanic" career via collaborations with Scorsese to become one of today's greatest leading male actors. However, because of his youthful appearance he was somewhat limited. He didn't possess the same tough demeanour as De Niro in his heyday. When Di Caprio raised his voice you could hear a boyish squeak. As Belfort, he commands a deep Queen's accent, which strengthens his aura as the megalomanic CEO of his firm, Stratton. He's ferocious. It would appear he has graduated from the boy wonder to a man. 

The theme of Wolf is very serious, but the manner in which it is expressed is extremely funny and extravagant. It's by far the funniest movie of the year, yet it's based on the most immoral individuals. Scorsese has made a career out of presenting audiences with a glimpse into the lives of mobsters, crooks, pimps, sociopaths and their violent lifestyles, yet this comedy conveys his most deplorable characters yet. They possess no redeeming qualities. They are anti-social, ruthless, misogynist, greedy bullies is what they are and its hilarious. This is due to the pace of Scorsese's filmmaking and the wit of Terrence Winter's screenplay.

There is a masterful sequence involving Di Caprio, Jonah Hill, a phone call, a car, Popeye and an old batch of Quaaludes that places Di Caprio's physical comedy up there with Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Jackie Chan. What is so remarkable about Scorsese's work is that although he is known for making some of Hollywood's darkest and grittiest films, he also is capable of stirring some great comedy within these nihilistic tales. 

Wolf also contains a great supporting cast, most notably Jonah Hill as Donnie Azoff, Belfort's partner in crime. Taste clearly matters for Hill when it comes to directors as he has seemed to take the same stance as Warren Beatty did in the 60s/70s "I only wanna work with the good directors". He also seemed to be endowed with (no, that was a prosthetic) telekineses because as soon as he saw the Duchess of Bay Ridge, Naomi (Margot Robbie) he did what every man in the cinema wanted to do. Margot Robbie will be huge after this, not only is she an incredible hard body, but as the movie unfolds we can see that she is a fine actor, capable of both comedic and dramatic roles. Director Rob Reiner plays the hot tempered father of Jordan Belfort and also acts as his good conscience. Matthew McConaughey is Mark Hanna, Belfort's charming mentor, who gives him a great lecture about the benefits of "feeding the geese". Kyle Chandler plays the straight arrow Agent Patrick Denham on the hunt for Belfort and his company. In addition to these great roles there are a hundred secondary characters and extras with great faces that will stick in the viewers memory. 

There are also the other performances that play an intrinsic role in an underlying theme throughout the movie. The animals. We see lions, fish, monkeys and dogs among the chaos, supporting the theory that Wall Street is like a jungle or as Belfort describes it; a wolf pit. There is a surreal sequence in which a marching bad and stampede of hookers invade the Stratton offices in a celebration of money making. Carnage occurs in a dreamlike state when Belfort's employees attack each other and harass the hookers as if they were animals themselves. This is Scorsese's way of showing us the primitive nature of capitalism within American society, it's a survival of the fittest mentality that illustrates the ugliness of greed and human nature. There is a fetishism with money and power that not just upper class aspire to, but all classes. This is brilliantly demonstrated with the closing shot of the film as a crowd of onlookers at a Belfort seminar in New Zealand gaze upon him and catch his every word with infatuation, all wanting, all eager to learn his secret to becoming rich.

Scorsese could possibly be the best to ever do it. Wolf of Wall Street is no way as daring or as ambitious as Taxi Driver or as fascinating as Goodfellas, but it shows a director who is always in touch with audiences, old and young. He adapts to the contemporary pop culture and humour as he adapts great scripts or books, and truly makes it his own. Some filmmakers of his vintage have lost touch (De Palma, Lucas, Coppola), some have grown with him (Woody Allen, Spielberg), but none of them have stayed as sharp.

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