Film review: The Wolf of Wall Street

16:00, Dec 27 2013
wolf of wall street
Leonardo DiCaprio exudes pure glittering charisma in The Wolf of Wall Street.


Directed by Martin Scorsese

Reviewed by Graeme Tuckett

If there is one narrative that has come to practically define the films of Martin Scorsese, then it is the one about the driven, near-sociopathic loner, who rises to unlikely heights, and then is brought low by hubris and the fickleness of love.

It is there in Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Casino, The Aviator, and it is a tale told to a mirror in The Departed.

Scorsese will always have unexpected pleasures such as Kundun and Hugo to lay before us, but it is to this familiar morality yarn that Scorsese defaults when he is left to his own devices, and allowed to make one from the heart.

Winning the rights to adapt Jordan Belfort's memoir of a decade of stock-market fraud, high-living, addiction, and eventual imprisonment must have been an absolute gift to Scorsese.

This is a story that plays out along almost the exact arc of Goodfellas. It's the one about the working class kid with the nous and the nerve to get into a very high stakes game, only to be brought down because he could never quite penetrate to the very top echelons, where the players are all but immune.

In charting the rise and fall of an utterly corrupt but strictly mid-level Wall Street player, Scorsese finds a few moments to make some very sharp points about Lehmann Brothers and their ilk, whose frauds would eventually bring the whole world to its knees, but whose principal players would never see the inside of a prison cell.

As Belfort, Leonardo DiCaprio turns in a performance that finally, completely, justifies Scorsese's faith in him as his post-De Niro muse. DiCaprio has never let the boss down, even when he has been a slightly awkward fit in a role, but in The Wolf of Wall Street he is simply perfect.

There is a new heft and swagger to DiCaprio's presence here, as though the nervous tics and anxieties that characterised his work in The Aviator and The Departed have been utterly subsumed, and what is left is pure glittering charisma.

DiCaprio strides through this film, present in nearly every scene, dominating everything around him in a way I have never seen him achieve before. And what scenes Belfort and Scorsese (and their screenwriter, Terence Winter, who created Boardwalk Empire) have built for DiCaprio to play in The Wolf swings from bitter domestic drama to high farce and outrageous physical comedy.

We are presented with a raft of over-blown characters, and situations that only the chemically addled and the super-rich could engineer.

Business empires crumble, marriages implode, a goddamn ship sinks at one point, and still the film keeps on piling on the drama.

This is a sweeping, brawling, rambunctious film, queasily misogynistic at times, but never less than faithful to its feckless, faithless protagonist and the life he lived.

Think of The Wolf of Wall Street as a brattish, cartoonish counter-point to Goodfellas. It's not perfect, but it is bold, and these days, that'll do.


The Dominion Post