Everybody’s written about it, so I might as well join the chorus now that it’s still relatively hot and add my humble opinion as well: Ladies and gentlemen, let’s have a look at The Wolf of Wall Street!
Jordan Belfort manages to make his big leap from a low job at a Wall Street firm to becoming a certified stockbroker – but sadly, just in time for Black Monday to get him unemployed again. More desperate now than before, having gotten used to some of the habits at his old firm, he takes a job dealing in penny stocks. Before you know it, he makes a fortune thanks to these questionable investments and builds up his own firm called Stratton Oakmont. But successful, rich, and with low moral standards, he soon tumbles down the rabbit hole that a lot of money brings with it, with all the wanted drama and unwanted legal attention that goes with it…
Even before it came out, the film was in everyone’s mouths, it seemed, not least because of the parties involved: directed by Martin Scorsese and starring, amongst others, Leonardo DiCaprio. And not quite surprising for a director of his film history, the topic was more than just unconventional, it was quite touchy and scandalous indeed. Sex, drugs and generally vulgar, that’s The Wolf of Wall Street in a nutshell; and it’s quite a shiny nutshell at that. After the actual memoir of Jordan Belfort, the film leads us into the dark yet glamorous world of The Money, stocked with anything despicable that The Money can supply. It’s a shocking, repelling, at times strangely appealing world that we are forced into, but it’s good to every once in a while be confronted so explicitly with all the taboos you’d rather just not see for the moment. And that – making you want to see them and not at the same time – is done masterfully here.
Technically marvellous and morally ambiguous, it is truly a great, if maybe a bit lengthy experience that we get. Once again, Leonardo DiCaprio is at his best, and I do not admit lightly to that because he’s one of the two actors that used to make me not see a film, before I was persuaded otherwise by marvellous acting in, for example, Inception (2010), Django Unchained (2012) or The Great Gatsby 2013). What do all those films have in common? He doesn’t play the nicest character of all, to put it mildly – and he seems surprisingly good at that once again. No, Jordan Belfort is not the nice guy on the block; he may be charismatic and convincing, but he is that to the point of obnoxiousness. Money, practically talking to him through his former boss at Wall Street, really do their best to take some of his humanity and straight feed it to the dogs. And it doesn’t only happen to him, it happens to all of them. What happens when money becomes more important than love, than family, than humanity? You get a big-ass yacht with half-naked chicks, of course, and make sure that your company supplies all the prostitutes his employees need to keep their working attitude up. It takes quite something to make a film in which pretty much all main characters are utterly unlikeable.
No, in fact, I am being unfair here; there are moments that add to Belfort’s character – some deeper moments that give some insight into a tortured, at times helpless and insecure soul. But that these moments of insight can probably be reduced to what feels like, and probably isn’t much more actually than 10 minutes in a 3-hour film says a lot about it – and even more striking, they only surface when he’s actually struggling financially. But of course that’s the point, isn’t it? The film wouldn’t even get half his message across if it had been done any other way.
Fun with a big ‘but’
I have to agree with people: even though the subject matter was so repellent, the film still offered many fun moments that were just too ridiculous to be true to life – although sadly, with what money can buy, whoever knows? Only the first few minutes are enough to convey that tricky mixture of fun and trouble, and definitely set the tone for the rest of the film. It is a brutally honest work that doesn’t even try to make excuses for anything. With Belfort being a straightforward, fairly uncaring narrator, you see everything through his eyes, with his attitude in mind, and you realise that it’s both terrible and not so terrible. What makes the film uncomfortable, though, are the other matters that are raised here – very striking to me was the drug abuse theme that was featured throughout. Sex? Alright, but drugs? And why are we even laughing about it? Both the joy and the terrible consequences are shown extremely clearly, extremely brutally – and I am sure for some in the audience with corresponding emotional baggage, extremely painfully. And that’s what the film is about essentially, to show the world of corruption in one go: the seductive glamour on the one hand, and waking up paranoid and puking on the other. To be drawn into the world of money where you can buy anything and anyone – while pushing away the people you’re meant to be loyal too.
But it does end on a sober note, and that’s probably the most important in a film of this calibre. Not too sober and clean, because we wouldn’t want that now, would we – but enough to give something back for all the terrible insights this film has given us about not only the characters in there, but possibly to some extent about ourselves as well.
Final verdict? Yes, I’d give it a recommendation indeed – but be aware of what you’re going to watch. If you have a lot on your mind, maybe it’s best to wait until you can stomach it, because while it’s as great as anything Scorsese really and it’s heavy yet fun entertainment, there’s one thing it’s definitely not – ‘nice’.