Twitter Plot Summary: The rise and fall of Jordan Belfort, stockbroker, as he indulges in excess at the expense of his clients.
Five Point Summary:
1. Talking directly to the camera, eh? This could prove interesting.
2. Jonah Hill’s white teeth.
3. The empire builds…
4. The point where it probably should have finished.
5. Does anybody learn anything?
It seems that difficulties in the financial sector are cyclical. Every few years the inherent greed of those involved in that area results in a crash of epic proportions where everybody loses. The Wolf of Wall Street picks up in the 1980s where young, not-yet-corrupted stockbroker Jordan Belfort is taken under the wing of Matthew McConaughey’s slimey Mark Hanna, who teaches the young impressionable man that it’s not about making money for the client – it’s all about making money for yourself. The outcome for the client is immaterial, essentially. Hanna teaches Belfort that to succeed in stockbroking he needs to drink, take drugs and pleasure himself on a regular basis.
As the years pass and Belfort’s power and finances extends outwards and upwards, he comes under the scrutiny of the FBI and it is this aspect of his story that dominates the narrative as it moves inexorably onwards. It’s a big film, no two ways about it, both in concept and running time. I hear that Scorsese has a four hour cut somewhere, which I’d quite like to see despite my feeling that it could do with losing half an hour. Throughout the years Belfort gets through two wives, a copious amount of drugs and more women than you can shake a stick at. Unsurprisingly, DiCaprio looks like he’s having a ball inhabiting this persona.
The narrative style is an interesting choice, with DiCaprio narrating his tale and talking directly to the camera on occasion, almost as if he’s proud of what he’s done and wants everybody to know about it. This probably isn’t too far away from the truth in reality bearing in mind the type of person that Belfort is. He’s entirely unlikeable, but that’s not to say that we don’t end up routing for him to an extent. That’s supported by the comedy elements of the film, which are played so darkly comic that on occasion you’re not sure if you’re supposed to laugh. One definite laugh-out loud scene (without feeling bad about it) features DiCaprio and Hill high on old quaaludes (drugs) and perhaps some of the best physical comedy/acting that both have ever done.
A film of this length would be a chore if it wasn’t for the performances, and both DiCaprio and Jonah Hill are excellent as the central pairing. Rob Reiner has a good few minutes of screen time as Belfort’s father, and is as entertaining and amusing as you might hope. McConaughey’s not around for long, but his words set our story in motion and if you want to apportion blame to a specific character for how all of this ends up happening, it’s all his. That’s not to say that Belfort is blameless as he womanises, takes hard drugs and lives the high life, but he was set along that path and that lifestyle by others already engrossed in it, so subsequently you can’t blame him entirely for his actions. There’s also a strong major role debut from Margot Robbie, who brings several layers to what could easily have been a one note personality. With that said she doesn’t break any new ground as far as female roles in cinema are concerned, but she makes more of it than was on paper.
Some arguments have been levelled at Scorsese for apparently bigging up the decadence and, apparently, not making it clear whether he’s saying the decadence and stealing of millions of dollars of money was a good thing, or if he’s actually deriding it and poking fun at the existence of this type of behaviour. I know mine is just one voice amongst many when it comes to discussing this film, but to me it was quite clear that it’s the latter – this kind of behaviour is clearly not acceptable and Scorsese all but says as much. Just take a look at the scene whereby, amongst the excess taking place, a female employee has her head shaved just to get her hands on $10,000. This is most certainly not a celebration.
Is it far too long? Yes, most definitely. But then if you think about how the film is a commentary on excess, power and corruption, then the running time is just another example of that. By the end we’re right back where we started – wealth intoxicates and that, like people, will never change.