Last year, when I saw Filth in cinemas, I thought I had seen the limit of debauchery that could be found in a film. It was funny, well-acted too and had a plot that was different and interesting. Filth was a film that was fun to watch from start to finish.
The Wolf of Wall Street takes the Filth model of movie, although not intentionally, and ramps it up to eleven. There’s more drugs, more sex, more crime and the main character, Jordan Belfort, is somehow an even more compelling character than Bruce Robertson was. The acting is better, the plot is better and it makes for a film that is fantastic in many ways. It makes Filth, a movie that set a bar from me in terms of delightful exaggeration, look like a mild effort.
The film features the rise, and unsurprising fall, of Jordan Belfort – a Wall Street stock broker (Leonardo DiCaprio). Entering the business with noble intentions, in the pursuit of the almighty dollar, Belfort soon realises that the world of Wall Street is run by aggressiveness and drug use. A stock market crash puts paid to his early dreams of success, but he is hooked by an addiction to money. Belfort then goes on to work for a small-time broker outfit in Queens, with higher profit margins than he was earning on Wall Street before starting his own company. The company hits the big-time, but does so in a dangerous and unsustainable way.
The first half of the film shows the unbridled carnage that goes on in the life of Belfort and at his company, Stretton Oakmont. It is well over an hour’s worth of extravagant, eye-catching and fun-to-watch cinema. The vast majority of staff are on drugs during their sales, strippers are brought in at the end of the day and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The sheer absurdness of some situations is enough to make you laugh on their own, without the ludicrous gags from the characters themselves. Belmont has made his money at this point, and rather than spending it on his wife and young daughter, he is more interested in buying drugs and material goods. He’s not inherently a bad person, as such, but does bad things. He leaves his first wife, Teresa, who was with him during his ascent to wealth for a younger, more attractive girl, for instance. He does so out of love, not any other desire. When building his company, he picks friends who he knows aren’t doing well financially, but have potential in the stock selling business. Belfort’s not all bad, and is a character the audience can like, at least most of the time, despite his huge personality flaws.
The true greatness of the film comes with its’ denouement, where the wheels come off for Belfort. This is where the truly memorable individual scenes in the film come up, and the actors show their true abilities, other than being able to cast off the shackles and go as crazy as they’re able to. It’s almost a different film completely to the first half, but complements and rounds the story off in a way that is fitting and worthy.
The acting in The Wolf of Wall Street is great, if not quite up to the level set by American Hustle. Leonardo DiCaprio does a job so good that you wonder if he can ever win a Best Actor Oscar if he doesn’t this year. DiCaprio is let loose, and that makes an amazing show. He embodies the twisted but charismatic personality of Belfort perfectly, and shows his true talent in many scenes – particularly in the darker third act of the film. Jonah Hill plays Belfort’s right-hand-man Donnie Azoff and is probably as good as I’ve ever seen him, playing a role that is almost perfect for him. Belfort’s second wife, Naomi, is also well played in perhaps the only major female role. Joanna Lumley also makes a few fleeting and comical appearances towards the middle of the film that add a great touch to the film.
The film is directed by Martin Scorsese, so you know that it fully develops a rounded story and doesn’t cut any corners in doing so. It’s three hours long, but never feels as though it drags – partly due to the symbolic break-neck speed of the film through the highlights of Belfort’s career. The film is really funny, and it has much to do with the way Scorsese has created off-the-wall scenarios and how he has chosen to show them to the audience. The lunch between Belfort and his first boss near the start of the film is a great example of how the film is hilarious in part because of how it is directed.
The Wolf of Wall Street has been nominated for the Best Picture Oscar this year. Although it’s perhaps not the film they’d pick, being so explicit and over-the-top, it is certainly the most entertaining film on the list. It’s an American version of Filth, and I’d even say it is better. If you want a laugh and a thoroughly entertaining movie to boot, get to the cinema to see The Wolf of Wall Street.