Friday 10 January 2014

Movie Review: The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013)

Based on the autobiography of convicted stockbroker Jordan Belfort, The Wolf Of Wall Street is concurrently an exuberant celebration and a devastating condemnation of the greed-addicted lifestyle lurking behind the stock market's promise of unimaginable riches.

In the late 1980s, a young Jordan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is introduced to the real business of trading stocks on Wall Street by his first boss Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey). The name of the game is not helping clients make money, but rather closing sales to earn commissions. When a downturn costs Jordan his promising job, he joins a scuzzy penny-stock trading firm on Long Island, and quickly establishes a reputation as a consummate salesman, peddling junk stocks and earning huge commissions. He gets rich, teams up with Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), and creates his own firm Stratton Oakmont, hiring scrappy low-lifes and training them to close sales.

Jordan's rise into a Wall Street superstar is meteoric, and his firm's aggressive sales tactics earn him the title Wolf Of Wall Street by Forbes magazine, which only enhances his reputation. His lifestyle becomes one of non-stop drug abuse and sexual debauchery. He meets and marries glamorous model Naomi Lapaglia (Margot Robbie), casually dumping first wife Teresa (Cristin Milioti) in the process. While enjoying his huge mansion of a house, a luxurious yacht, non-stop parties and never ending quantities of drugs, Jordan and Donnie steer Stratton Oakmont into the lucrative Initial Public Offering game, launching the stock of hot footwear brand Steve Madden. With Jordan using every illegal trick in the book to enrich himself ever more, FBI agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) starts sniffing around, and eventually Jordan has to decide to either fight or cooperate with the serious criminal investigations into his business.

Martin Scorsese creates a three hour masterpiece of depravity, exposing the corruption at the heart of Wall Street and the morally unconstrained race to unmitigated greed. The Wolf Of Wall Street is a horrifying yet seductive examination of the men who control much of the world's economic activity, and while the film itself avoids preaching and dwelling on the societal damage, the conclusions are obvious: the system is at the mercy of soulless maggots, and its long term prospects can only be gruesome.

The Wolf Of Wall Street is also magnificently hypnotic, Scorsese packing the movie with the glitzy trappings of immense wealth, as enjoyed by the morally void. Wild parties, nude girls, raunchy sex everywhere, the fastest cars, the most unique drugs, the most exclusive yachts, the largest mansions, and the most expensive threads: any material thing that money can buy, Jordan gets, and Scorsese vividly displays on the screen in overwhelming colour, volume, and size.

And yet Jordan wants more, upset that his average weekly take is less than $1 million, and seeking Swiss banks to hide his wealth and "ratholes" in the form of friends who hold stock for him to benefit from insider trading, understanding nothing of life except what his addictive personality continuously demands. The Wolf Of Wall Street becomes a study of a classic obsessive character as Jordan chases the next high, the next girl, the next million, and the next deal to scratch itches that will never be satisfied.

Leonardo DiCaprio dominates the screen, portraying Jordan with a single-minded zeal to worship ill-gotten wealth with not a single principled bone in his body. The supporting cast trails in his wake, Jonah Hill as Donnie representing the many flim flam type characters who benefitted from Jordan's ability to sell garbage to easily duped investors. Margot Robbie slips comfortably into the role of the trophy wife, perhaps the one person never fooled by Jordan, and a woman as superficial as her man in her life's desires. Matthew McConaughey has a one-scene but eternally memorable role, teaching Jordan what it means to be a man governed by the most base instincts.

The Wolf Of Wall Street is a breathless display of life on hyper fast forward, where everything serves the bottom line in a race to the lowest form of achievement: hawking rubbish.

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