Friday, 17 January 2014

The Wolf Of Wall Street

"As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a banker"

It's 10.30 on a Monday morning and I'm watching a man apparently introducing cocaine into the anus of a prostitute with a straw. I haven't quite woken up yet so while the procedure I'm witnessing is as delicate a way as any to ease me in to the following three hours of Quaalude-fuelled hedonism and bacchanalian debauchery, it's frankly still all a bit of a shock. I mean usually the Victoria Line is much more civilised once rush hour's over.

AHAHAHA but seriously. The scene I am describing does in fact take place at the beginning of Martin Scorsese's The Wolf Of Wall Street, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio as absolute fucking irredeemable shitkicker Jordan Belfort. Belfort was a stockbroker in the late '80s and '90s who ripped off thousands of individuals and companies in order to fund his addiction to money, sex and hoovering up every available narcotic substance he could get his nose on. As punishment for his crimes, Belfort served fewer than two years of his four-year jail term and was forced to have his story told by one of the greatest directors who ever lived in a film starring one of Hollywood's best and best-loved actors. Oh and he also gets a cameo. So remember kids: DRUGS DOESN'T PAY.

Fortunately there's no need for anyone to get on their moral high horse about any of that, because the film is all kinds of brilliant. DiCaprio is absolutely on fire in his latest attempt (following Django Unchained and The Great Gatsby) to corner the market in obscenely wealthy cunts, while Scorsese has made his best film since GoodFellas. It's a bit of a shame that it's essentially a remake of that film, with bankers replacing gangsters, but never mind that because The Wolf Of Wall Street has dwarf-tossing and a nappy-wearing chimp on roller skates and Matthew McConaughey dispensing advice on wanking in the workplace like a filthy Yoda.
Three solid hours of Caligulan depravity might sound tough to swallow, but Scorsese's genius is in balancing the insanity with the less histrionic bits of Terence Winter's script in such a way that you don't necessarily feel like you've spent the whole running time with a wet finger in the mains. Nor, however, is there chance to be bored; it's never less than entertaining, and the only time you'll be checking your watch is to see if that really was 180 minutes that just passed.

Where The Wolf Of Wall Street just fails to meet its promise is in the substance, which is ironic because substances are in no short supply here. There's the sledgehammer implication that Belfort's company, Stratton Oakmont, is a metaphor for America (you can tell because at one point DiCaprio bellows "STRATTON OAKMONT IS AMERICA!!!"), but there's no hint of the global ripples caused by the likes of Belfort and their dive-bombs of self-gratification. And for a three-hour film there's a vaguely disappointing lack of narrative scale: once Belfort's first-act move up through the gears of his arc reaches maximum overdrive, everything that follows is just another episode of bogglingly selfish dickery.

But these are minor quibbles; if you want an examination of the downfall of the financial sector, watch Inside Job, which doesn't have a single chimp in a nappy. The Wolf Of Wall Street is a proper blast of in-your-face and up-your-nose filmmaking from a team of genuine legends, and on top of everything you'd expect from Martin Scorsese it's also frequently hilarious: the Lemmons sequence alone is a masterclass of physical comedy from DiCaprio and Jonah Hill, who has reached a milestone in his career in that this is the first film in which I've found him bearable. So well done Jonah, well done Leo and well done Marty. Let's celebrate! I've got a straw round here somewhere.

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