As far as controversy goes, Martin Scorsese’s latest film is high on the list of divisive films. Many critics are lamenting the way it seems to promote the lifestyle of the protagonist, the exuberant, excessive, egregious Jordan Belfort and his troupe of merry stockbrokers as they extort, intoxicate and fornicate with the ferocity of a world-ending earthquake. While the basis for the claim that the film is on their side is certainly a dubious one, Scorsese is not one to make a ‘safe’ film and there is a lot here that could potentially be offensive, but taken with a pinch of salt it makes for a lot of very amusing fare.
Sure, Belfort is a downright nasty piece of work most of the time and Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance, done at a hundred miles an hour as he embodies the hectic frenzy of his life ensures we’re aware of this, but the humour and drama ensures that we aren’t completely disconnected from events, and the laughs and wacky events arrive at blistering pace. DiCaprio works wonderfully with fellow Oscar-nominated actor Jonah Hill who takes the role of Donnie Azoff, a salesman blown away by the amount Belfort makes dealing in selling worthless stock to oblivious and often desperate customers. Hill and DiCaprio have wonderful chemistry, and there are some fantastic scenes where they are both performing at their best, working off each other to fulfil true comic and dramatic potential. A mention must also be given to a funny and sadly too short turn by the ever-rising Matthew McConaughey, genuinely becoming a powerhouse of the Hollywood scene.
One thing that can be said for ‘Wolf’ is that it’s distinctly unashamed to paint the women at the higher echelons of the financial realm as being either prostitutes or models with a penchant for expensive things. Belfort regularly exploits both these things, and Scorsese makes no effort to portray any females as anything other than trophies or sex objects to enjoy. Indeed, when Margot Robbie’s character Naomi is provided with some substantial dialogue standing up to Belfort, he is most certainly none too pleased with increasingly violent comeuppance for doing so. This sort of treatment of women together with orgy scenes that are wildly and ridiculously excessive might have made for a case that the film is unrestrainedly immoral, but it’s the fact that you can sense Scorsese’s satirical intention in the way he films the majority of these scenes, as they all add in to the pitch black comedic edge that it maintains throughout its substantial three-hour length. Belfort’s abuse of Naomi only serves to make him even more reprehensible a character, and it seems clear that ‘Wolf’ does not endorse that sort of behaviour at all through events that transpire as a result of it.
‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ certainly dances on the edge of a few lines and makes a point of displaying all the debauchery and repugnant nature of all of Belfort’s doings. The fact that this isn’t thrown up as a completely exaggerated version of aspects of Wall Street but based on the real man’s memoirs is genuinely something else, and it definitely provides us with a window in to the more destructive lifestyles of the super-rich. Regularly laugh-out-loud funny and engaging throughout, it’s a successful black comedy that is relentless in its pursuit of the ridiculous, even at the expense of quite possibly alienating some of its audience. It’s the power of the acting and a bitingly funny script that carries it over the line though, even if it is a little hard to watch at times. A resemblance to Scorsese’ mafia epic ‘Goodfellas’ is there in relation to its portrayal of a sleazy main character, but this is on a whole other level of insane, with correspondingly polarising results.