Review: The Wolf Of Wall Street

Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Terence Winter
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner
Released: January 23, 2014
Grade: A-

The Wolf Of Wall Street
The first corporations in the UK and the US were subject to very strict rules and regulations so as to prevent them from becoming too powerful. They could only engage in specific activities allowed for by the government (which were often for a public good). They could not own stock in other corporations. Their members could be personally liable if losses were incurred. It wasn’t until the late 19th Century that the first states in America started relaxing laws so as to stimulate business activity.

Let’s fast forward to the year 1987 and I’ll introduce you to 22-year-old Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio). It’s his first day working for a big stockbroking firm and he’s been taken out to lunch by his millionaire boss (McConaughey). Belfort is given two important tips to succeed – masturbate regularly and start doing cocaine. Both will keep him relaxed so that he can smooth talk investors into buying stock.

Does it matter that he knows nothing about the corporations that he’s recommending to his clients? Nope. The stockbroking game is not about picking winners and losers. It’s not about increasing the wealth of investors. Belfort is told the only thing he has to worry about is commissions. You see, brokers get their fee up front. They don’t care what happens after you’ve invested. Somehow, I don’t think this was envisioned by those who first came up with the idea of a “corporation”.

It’s hard to believe this is a true story. I’m sure a few elements have been embellished (the screenplay is based on Belfort’s autobiography) but the key facts have been proven. Within the space of a few years, Belfort created one of the world’s largest stockbroking companies and was worth roughly $200 million. A Forbes magazine article exposed some of his firm’s dodgy practices… but this only made Belfort more popular! Everyone wanted in. Everyone wanted to be rich. It was like pigs at a trough.

Brought to the screen by iconic director Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas, The Departed), The Wolf Of Wall Street has generated controversy. Detractors believe that the film glorifies Belfort’s actions given its many comedic scenes and its lack of a moralistic conclusion. That was certainly not Scorsese’s intention. He didn’t want audiences to leave the cinema feeling better and thinking that the problem has been solved. He “wanted them to feel like they’d been slapped into recognising that this behaviour has been encouraged.” The film’s final scene is haunting in that regard.

Some might argue about the perverse content, the excessive coarse language (there are more than 500 f-bombs), the frequent drug use, the workplace sex, the orgies, the nudity, the misogyny, the discrimination… but it’s hard to fault the performance of Leonardo DiCaprio. He starts out as an ordinary guy and transforms himself into someone so powerful, so influential that he could “sell lube to a convent full of nuns”. His passionate monologues will be remembered.

My only qualm with the film is its length. At 180 minutes, it’s the longest of this season’s award contenders. The first hour is fast, tight and you can see the great work done my Scorsese’s long-time editor Thelma Schoonmaker to keep the story moving. Things start to slow from thereon and a splash of repetition creeps in. Perhaps this was also part of Scorsese’s plan? Maybe he wanted to push filmgoers to the point of exhaustion.

There’s an extra reason for Australian audiences to see the movie and that’s to admire 23-year-old Margot Robbie who deservedly gets plenty of screen time as Belfort’s second wife. Robbie graduated from Somerset College on the Gold Coast in 2007, landed a role in Neighbours, picked up a smart part in Richard Curtis’ About Time, and now looks set for very big things.

Nominated for 5 Academy Awards including best picture, The Wolf Of Wall Street is not so much a film… but more of an examination paper. When you leave the room after three hours, you’ll know if you’ve passed.