Sunday, January 12, 2014

Film Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

Copyright: Universal Pictures
Martin Scorsese made The Wolf of Wall Street in a way I can only describe as entirely organic. As I watched the story of Jordan Belfort, a New York stockbroker who enters the financial scene in the 80’s and soon becomes one of the biggest (and weirdest) success stories around, I didn’t feel like its director had to make any compromises. The film’s rhythm is frantic, and things happen in every minute; as Belfort starts to expand his empire, his appetites also grow, and women, drugs and financial criminal shortcuts start to play a big part of his life. He enters the realm of penny stocks and in a matter of months gains a fortune. Naturally, others get drawn to him like moths to the light of a burning stack of money. Things pile up as his life progresses, and in no time the FBI gets involved.

Things start to get really serious for him, but Scorsese still felt totally okay with taking a 20 minute slapstick break in the middle of the film, when he presents how a Belfort, overdosed on sleeping pills, tries to get to his home and stop his partner from making a potentially huge mistake. In other films, this kind of switch would look stupid and probably forced, because the rest of the film feels very intellectual (in spite of the crude language and nudity), but Scorsese didn’t mind doing it, and it paid off. The Wolf of Wall Street in truly hilarious, and the range of humor (from people falling down and drooling on each other to the ridicules way the characters dodge questions asked by financial regulators)  it presents most likely consolidated its impact.

The creative ease Scorsese brought to the film can be seen in another aspect. For example, Belfort often speaks to the audience, but not continuously. We can hear his inner monologue, as well as monologue from other characters, but there is no pattern and this doesn’t only apply to supporting roles. A lot of time the monologue is only a passing sentence or a single phrase. It’s obvious that Scorsese didn’t force anything into a preset frame, but did it when it when it felt natural.

The cast did something similar. In the film, Jordan Belfort has several long motivational speeches, and the best of them reminded me of the character Frank T.J. Mackey from the movie Magnolia. DiCaprio, who plays the foul-mouthed Belfort, made them powerful and raw. Here, the DiCaprio/Scorsese synergy really kicks in, and we as an audience cannot deny the magnetism of the character and his relentless enticement that beckons everybody to join him on the road of never-ending greed and money.

Other actors were equally good. Jonah Hill plays Donnie, Belfort’s right hand man and an even bigger dope fiend than his boss. He already showed in Moneyball that he can step out of the comedy genre while staying funny and it’s no surprise he shines here too. Rob Reiner also impressed me, especially in the way he works with people who are decades younger than him.

Scorsese made a film about Wall Street, but his skill and freedom he has been granted allowed it to break the every negative expectation I had before I saw it. It’s not like Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps or any other contemporary film about the greed and excess of the most famous site in the financial universe. It doesn’t mind looking silly and goofy, and that’s exactly why it’s so great both as a comedy and a grim presentation of the people who have the power to financially ruin millions across the globe.