"Belfort's world is an absurd cacophony of extravagance as he shoots from party to riotous board meeting to party again"
Martin Scorsese's post-millennium output has been a fairly mixed bag. Certainly, all his films have been of a certain standard that has come to be expected from the veteran director, but none of them have really threatened to hit the highs of his early works. The Departed arguably came closest but films like Shutter Island and The Aviator left much to be desired. Every new Scorsese film comes with a lot of intrigue, audiences constantly yearning for the next Goodfellas or Raging Bull. Of his recent films, none have arrived amid as much vehement debate as The Wolf of Wall Street. This dark comedy sees Scorsese working once again with Leonardo DiCaprio to tell a tale of boom and bust in the world of banking. Nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture, The Wolf of Wall Street doesn't quite reach the standard of Scorsese's best, but still manages to hit some incredibly high highs and some despicably low lows.
Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) begins this film as a wet between the ears twenty-something with dreams of becoming a successful banker. His ideas about the morals and ethics of the banking sector are shattered during his first day on the job by his new boss (played excellently - albeit far too briefly - by Matthew McConaughey). Following the "Black Monday" stock market crash, Belfort is forced to crawl his way up from the bottom and soon learns that there is serious money to be made selling worthless stock to working-class wannabe investors. Belfort starts his own company and uses his extremely manipulative personality to help his company grow, as his life descends into a chaotic frenzy of booze, drugs, and prostitutes.
The first person to be won over by Belfort is Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) who quickly becomes his right hand man, we then see his staff grow into the thousands as Belfort evangelises with all the conviction of a TV preacher, convincing his congregation that this anarchic life is the one they want. As an audience, he'll convince you too. For the best part of three hours, The Wolf of Wall Street is pure entertainment, Belfort's world is an absurd cacophony of extravagance as he shoots from party to riotous board meeting to party again. The film has come under fire from critics for glorifying the indulgences of the banking sector, but people who make this criticism have failed to see the message hidden in this film; that despite Belfort's despicable lack of morals and destruction of the world around him, we all want to be like him.
Scorsese has made heavy use of some cleverly hidden CGI to create a highly-polished world reminiscent of Baz Luhrmann's recent Great Gatsby adaptation. Every location looks immaculate, giving everything an air of decadence. The script, too, is polished to perfection, with each hilarious quip or line strongly delivered by the cast.
The Wolf of Wall Street is a joy to watch. Despite its three hour running time it never feels like dragging, even as the frenzied cycle of Belfort's life repeats itself. Party after party we see this character struggling to cope with the life he has created for himself and yet we still hunger for it. As an audience we thrive on finding out what will happen next. The film is, at times, pure ecstasy and at others, vile sludge, yet everyone still yearns to be like Jordan Belfort. Far from glorifying this world, Scorsese has subtly exposed the greed and selfishness in the human condition that allows the Jordan Belforts and Bernie Madoffs of this world to thrive.