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Movie review: The Wolf of Wall Street

Updated on February 1, 2014

After the family friendly Hugo, which although visually appealing, was lacking in all other departments, Scorsese is back on familiar ground with his latest project.

It may not feature gangsters, but its themes cover similar, well-trodden territory, with a protagonist seeking a fortune in which to live an overly decadent lifestyle, full to the brim with the constant taking of illegal drugs and the services of hookers, usually at the same time.

Jordan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a young man with one thing on his mind – he wants to make money, and lots of it. He’s not that fussed how he goes about it, which is probably how he ended up in the stock market as a broker. And of course the Mecca for all brokers is Wall Street, where he landed on his feet in a great position to learn his trade.

It’s a reflection of his character that the devastating crash of 87’s Black Monday was merely a slight blip in his career. From that he went on to create his own company – Stratton Oakmont – where he surrounded himself with like-minded shallow, money-obsessed types who just wanted as much money as humanly possible to maintain their unhealthy addictions. This meant that they weren’t averse to making their commissions from illegal gains.

Although their dealings caught the eye of the authorities, Jordan and his band of merry (and high) men were making so much money, it never ever felt like a credible threat. The kind of money that would make the national bank of a small nation blush, and as jealous as hell. This made Jordan pretty much invincible. That’s what he thought anyway.

Just when you thought that Oliver Stone had pretty much defined the money-grabbing broker generation of the eighties with his seminal Wall Street, Scorsese comes along and gives us his take on this loathsome breed.

And as you expect, he doesn’t hold back. DiCaprio’s Jordon makes Gordon Gekko look like a naive boy scout. Despite his ever-present boyish good looks (at one point in the film he has to play the 22 year old version of Jordan and still manage to look far too young to do so), DiCaprio clearly embraces the opportunity to play such a heel. It’s by no means a career defining performance, but considering he’s pretty much on screen for the film’s 180 minute duration (which will automatically translate to 3 hours for all those of the VHS generation), he certainly earns his substantial fee for the film.

He’s ably supported to by an entertaining turn by Jonah Hill, who let’s face it, isn’t a name or face that you would expect in a Scorsese project, and yet he nails the role of Jordon’s best friend Donnie.

And although it’s a fairly short cameo, Matthew McConaughey almost manages to steal the show from everyone with his part as broker mentor Mark Hanna.

Scorsese too appears to have a lot of fun with the film. It’s a film driven by characters (incredibly based on a true story of one of them), and not many know how to handle characters better than him. Bust surprisingly for Scorsese, and unfortunately for the film, it doesn’t have much else going for it.

Yes he’s managed to created a world of full of delightfully despicable characters, but they’re let down by a story with no real momentum. Many can define a story by its arc, but this film has a very short straight line which is way too disappointingly obvious.

This problem is compounded by the film’s length; there are far too many overtly long and unnecessary scenes that really should have been left on the cutting room floor. A far better ratio would have been less film and more McConaughey, but as it stands The Wolf of Wall Street is a bloated, self-indulgent mess. An Admittedly enjoyable mess in places, but a mess nonetheless.

In short (and Scorsese could learn a thing about or two about that practice), it’s an overly excessive look at a world of obvious excess. It has a number of great (although not quite outstanding) performances, but Scorsese manages to fall short of his usually high standards.

3 booms

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