The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) Film Review

Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) embarks on a hedonistic journey after he loses his Wall Street job. Initially penniless, Belfort starts his own business manipulating the financial market to fund his increasingly decadent lifestyle.

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The Wolf of Wall Street is a confident film from Martin Scorsese. It feels weighty and although the decadent lifestyle portrayed may seem distasteful to some, it depicts Belfort’s world with very little in the way of an apology. This isn’t the film that many were expecting and its three-hour runtime may be too long for some viewers. But the film does deserve time to revel in its decadent plot and its opulent settings.

The film has a marked reliance on the characters and the dialogue. The Wolf of Wall Street does have some very funny sequences, but it’s in the individual scenes that it shines. The intimate moments between Belfort and his wife show that character interaction is just as crucial to the plot as the lifestyle portrayed. It’s just as reliant on the relationship between the characters as it is on the set pieces that later come to define Belfort’s wealth.  Perhaps the element that distinguishes the Wolf of Wall Street from Scorcese’s other work is the fact that this is a very funny film.

DiCaprio stands out in The Wolf of Wall Street

The plot follows Belfort (played by the impressive DiCaprio) who is a self made New York stockbroker with a penchant for the finer things in life. He’s a man who’ll do whatever it takes to succeed and his charisma convinces a number of people to join his new business. This isn’t really the whole story however and much of the film is spent in grandiose and intensely comic moments. The super rich live in a different world to the rest of us and The Wolf of Wall Street highlights just how absurd that life can become if left unchecked. DiCaprio deftly handles the sheer arrogance of Belfort but none of the characters come with any sort of empathy attached.

This is perhaps the only real problem with The Wolf of Wall Street and the characters remain distant, unlike us, and removed from our reality. Their wealth allows them access to an entirely different world, one where everything can be bought. There’s also a distinct male gaze throughout the Wolf of Wall Street and again that’s down to the setting – this is a mans film, in a mans world, with all of the requisite tropes.

Contemporary film making

The performances are great all round, but look out for Jonah Hill. His recent increased screen presence hits a high in the Wolf of Wall Street.
The performances are great all round, but look out for Jonah Hill. His recent increased screen presence hits a high in the Wolf of Wall Street.

The Wolf of Wall Street is a film for our times and it’s greatly reflective of the recent financial troubles in the Western world. The thing is though, the film is never really about that and it seems more like a window than a mirror. We gaze on a completely alien world and it’s as enticing as it is repulsive. The Wolf of Wall Street is seductive cinema and it shows just how easily (given the opportunity) any one of us would embrace Jordan Belfort’s lifestyle.

This film, a gaudy chronicle of a rags-to-riches tale, spans three whole hours of screen time. Scorsese doesn’t hold back and The Wolf of Wall Street is one long extended exhausting trip. But that’s part of the charm and cinema should always be an experience that stimulates and provokes. Jordan’s journey is one that is completely egotistical, selfish, and morally ambiguous (if not wrong) but it is a lot of fun.

Not judgmental

The initial reception to the Wolf of Wall Street was slightly coloured by the fact that it never explicitly condemned Belfort’s lifestyle. That’s a reductive consideration really and it’s not for the film to determine morality – the only obligation of a film is to tell a story. This isn’t a horrific story, there are no disturbing or unpleasant scenes – it’s a comedy that’s grandiose in scale. Jordan Belfort is a larger than life character and that’s really reflective of the film itself. The Wolf of Wall Street is a long descent into complete opulence with rapidly fading notions of consequence.

The Wolf of Wall Street is exhilarating cinema with perhaps a slight downward arc. The first two acts are great fun and they shun a lot of conventional narrative devices however the third act is much more traditionally written. It all has to end but the journey along the way made it more than worthwhile.

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