In their fifth collaboration together Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio have created an epic satire of biblical proportions. Being dropped into the life the titular 'Wolf of Wall Street' Jordan Belfort is like riding on the back of drug fuelled, savage, predator stalking and exploiting America’s wealth with vampiric lust.
When Scorsese looks to his visual easel he must see an endless palette of formal techniques. Instead of a technically familiar or predictable means of delivery you're spoilt with the adhering to the whims of Belfort's gloating perspective, especially as DiCaprio, via voice over narration, is correcting Scorsese's selection of Ferrari colour. This is his world. From 'day in the life' advertorial exploration of his palatial home, the crazy carnival of debauchery of his firm, or the experiential roller-coaster of mind altering substances; Scorsese bends space and time like a magician. The performances too feel so intuitive to the shifting tone between farcical, satirical and fiercely intense; there's an earned trust that someone of his gargantuan stature commands from his players.
What's so wonderful about how Scorsese takes you through Belfort's rise and fall is the momentary echoes of alternating impressions of the events. While most of the film you're being led by Belfort's voice over narration and breaking the fourth wall to play ring leader to his circus, there are slivers of different characters perspectives revealed by internal monologues. Joanna Lumley's Aunt Emma or Jean Dujardin's slimy Swiss banker Jean Jacques Saurel gives you some relief from Belfort’s presence inside your head.
Screenwriter Terence Winter wrangles nearly a decade in the life of Belfort into essential signpost interactions and sweeping bouts of orgiastic excess. Belfort can't fathom consequence, he's calculating in his deceit; he’s a high functioning sociopath with delusions of invincibility. Swirling in this orbit, Winter must position the audience in just the right way to sell them on this life. However there's probably nothing more key to the film than Belfort's key note speeches on the floor of Stratton Oakmont. Scorsese and Winter don't want to mute their significance or jab you with the bullet points, you're forced to examine these mammoth perverse inspirational frenzies in all their grand delusion.
Winter and Scorsese posit key characters as the essential ingredients of Belfort's life. McConaughey's the model, Hill is the apostle, Robbie is the princess and trophy reaffirming his masculinity and Chandler is the nagging 'rules' defiling his unblemished portrait.
McConaughey’s allure, charm, and almost admirable narcissism is the all-enveloping warm blanket that seems to make his utterly wrong world view palatable for Belfort. He's a chest thumping, self-appointed beat poet of the inherent crookedness of Wall Street and nihilism. Just try not to imitate him when you leave the cinema. Jonah Hill is truly at his very best as Belfort’s number one subordinate Donnie Azoff. Lost behind a curly bouffant and a wall of white 'chompers’, he's like a loyal puppy yearning to be associated with Belfort's power. His extremely deft comic timing undercut Donnie's lavish praise and chorus like agreement with all things 'Jordan.' He's the chief sheep in the flock.
Margot Robbie's Naomi Lapaglia is a goddess. She's the '10' that Belfort must acquire in order to show his followers that he can acquire women torn right out of their fantasies [exhibit a) see Donnie's (Hill) pool party self-manipulation]. Robbie puts herself on the map with a manipulative and brave performance. Initially you're given the impression that she'll accept Belfort warts and all because of the majestic benefits, however once children enter the picture there's a fierce maternal pit-bull radiating from within. Standing toe to toe with the tyrannical DiCaprio and co at the top of their game, She’s impressive as hell. As Belfort's ego inflates it takes him to Kyle Chandler's Agent Patrick Denham, an incorruptible entity. Belfort cannot fathom that one cannot be bought, bribed, or dammit, impressed by his gorgeous yacht with selection of highly priced escorts. It's a necessary foe to tussle with. Chandler's about to undermine Belfort's continued attempts to exert monetary and hierarchical dominance. Chandler is spectacular at keeping a lid on a bubbling and boiling frustration at the audacity of Belfort. Just when you think that Belfort's charm and money can acquire him anything, Chandler's Denham presents morality as the alternative; despite their far less grandiose rewards.
DiCaprio's performance feels like a tandem sky dive; he's strapped to your back, guiding your free-fall and you're really not sure if he's going to pull the 'chute. From humble middle class beginnings to plainly amoral, unethical exploitation; DiCaprio's Belfort is a hurricane. Snorting cocaine out of prostitute's nether region, juggling conveying the effects of a cocktail of mind altering substances or flaring his nostrils and inciting battle cries for coordinated greed - it's hypnotic.
Scorsese and DiCaprio crash the tsunami of Belfort’s greed into the audience and the resulting fallout is hilariously abject. Scorsese’s mastery is undeniable; The Wolf of Wall Street is yet another magnum opus.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Terence Winter (based on the book by Jordan Belfort)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau
Blake Howard is a writer, a podcaster, the editor-in-chief & co-founder of Australian film blog Graffiti With Punctuation. Beginning his criticism APPRENTICESHIP as co-host of That Movie Show 2UE, Blake is now a member of the prestigious Online Film Critic Society, sways the Tomato Meter with Rotten Tomatoes approved reviews. See his articulated words and shrieks (mostly) here at Graffitiwithpunctuation.com and with DarkHorizons.com & 2SER Sydney weekly on Gaggle of Geeks.