‘Wolf of Wall Street’ is one of those films that comes around every year that’s massively overhyped and intellectualised – without any real justification.
It’s an ok film: well executed, with interesting ideas for storytelling. But it’s also predictable, too long, and avoids controversy like the plague.
The film depicts the real life fall from grace of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo di Caprio) – an ambitious 22-year-old embarking on a career as a broker. Tenacious and fearless, Belfort takes to working life with ease – but just as he hits his stride, Black Monday comes about and the prestigious firm he works for comes crashing down.
An entrepreneur at heart, Belfort decides to set up his own firm: ‘Stratton Oakmont’. But there’s nothing glorious or legitimate about this enterprise: In the 1990s, Belfort raked in billions of pounds as his firm defrauded investors with fraudulent stock sales.
Scorsese delights in showing us the excessive life of Belfort and his fellow brokers – how greedy and disgusting they are. But it’s not disgusting enough. It’s all just a little bit clichéd and predictable: shots of competitive men shouting ‘fuck this’ and ‘fuck that’, sexy women getting their kits off, cars and drugs. Everyone is an exhibitionist. There’s even a ridiculous scene where Belfort’s boss (Matthew McConaughey) encourages the young squire to take drugs and increase the amount he masturbates to fuel his professional performance.
The characters themselves vary in believability and likeability. Leonardo di Caprio is pretty much Leonardo di Caprio in this film: electrifying and engaging, but – with the dark hair – a bit of a Jack Nicholson mini-me. The problem is – matter how much energy he charges into the role – it’s hard to like, love or hate with Belfort. He’s boring. And more than that: he’s written, and played, as if he’s a bit thick. Di Caprio may as well have been playing Peter Crouch living on a boat.
Two redeeming performances in the film are that of the shifty Donnie Azoff – Belfort’s colleague – played by Jonah Hill. He’s a man with squeaky white teeth, and creepy, colourful shirts. Behind his glow in the dark smile, you quickly glean that there’s something not quite right about Donnie. There’s also FBI Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler): he’s dark, dazzling, clever… he is my future husband. But he’s also massively underused! Scorsese could have played much more on the ‘cat and mouse’ game of agent vs criminal to create tension – similar to how Ridley Scott does in his film ‘American Gangsta’ with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe’s characters – but he just lets dreamy Denham get away.
The biggest problem with this film for me is that it’s safe and predictable. For starters, it perpetuates the stereotype of greedy, ugly financiers – playing on the fact that, in the current economic climate, bankers are not in popularity.
It also subscribes to an entirely moralistic and Christian ideology – the idea that if you sin, you will be punished. Of course, Belfort did get his comeuppance – but I could have liked the story to have taken a twist. Instead, it falls into the ‘rise of fall’ narrative that we’ve seen so many times before.
What I really want to know is what happens when karma doesn’t deal people the fate they deserve? I think it would have been far more interesting to have applied a Machiavellian logic to this tale. ‘The Machiavelli of Wall Street’ doesn’t have the nice alliteration to it, but it sure makes for a more imaginative film.