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Saturday, 18 January 2014


The Wolf of Wall Street is the latest collaboration between Martin Scorcese and Leo Di Caprio. It is a lot of fun.

Di Caprio plays Jordan Belfort, who builds himself up from humble beginnings to a position as one of the most powerful men on Wall Street. He doesn't do it entirely legally, though, and soon comes under the spotlight of FBI agent, Patrick Denham.

Most of the movie is concerned with showing the decadent lifestyle of Belfort and his group of cronies that he accrues on his journey to the top.

We don't need either Belfort, who narrates, or Scorcese, who directs, to tell us how over the top, how obscene, the way of life of Wall Street traders was in the eighties and nineties.

There is no overt commentary on the amorality of the lifestyle, there doesn't need to be. We are simply shown the excess, the hookers, the mounds and mounds of drugs, the unending supply of cash and the bizarre, irresponsible behaviour, and allowed to make our own minds up.

The spirit of the times is captured perfectly, the "Greed is good" mantra of the bond traders of these unimaginable decades. We see the groupthink of the employees in the Stratton Oakmont offices, all united in their obsessive frenzy to get rich. Staff meetings are addressed by Belfort, and turn into a kind of Nuremberg rally, their leader in chief whipping his minions into a mania for selling and making cash.

Belfort's acolytes are the Keystone Cops, the biggest bunch of incompetent, drug addled, sex obsessed boors you can encounter in a Hollywood film. Despite this they make millions, through chutzpah, supreme confidence, greed and mountains of cocaine.

And it is a tremendous amount of fun. From the first frame it plays the situation for laughs. Jonah Hill, who plays Donny, Belfort's partner in crime, spends the whole movie with a set of comedy false teeth in. Donny, of course, is famed for being married to his cousin.

Jordan Belfort is basically a nineteen eighties/ nineties version of Leo Di Caprio's last role, as The Great Gatsby. He is a dreamer, like Gatsby, self-destructive, utterly self-absorbed, with a single-minded obsession to make piles and piles and piles of cash.

"Strattan Oakmont is America." This is Belfort's line in the middle of this movie, and it is not accidental. The name of the company is pulled out of the air by Belfort, it has no connection to him or anyone who works there, it is simply WASP-sounding enough to gain them the respect that they need to survive in the bond trading jungle.

It is the definition of self-invention. There is nothing real about either the profession, or Belfort's made up company, and yet precisely because of their lack of substance, they are a raging success.

The whole enterprise is built on sand. They start off by selling worthless penny stocks to Joe Schmos who don't know any better, and build up into insider trading and money laundering. It is the ugly side of American capitalism where anything goes as long as it makes money.

Like Goodfellas, there is a prominent voice-over, as Belfort narrates his rise and fall, with a certain wry cynicism. Di Caprio takes over the role, and gives us a real anti-hero. Belfort genuinely cares about the people around him, inasmuch as he is capable of doing, yet he constantly lets down his wives, partners and children in his mad obsession for making money, taking drugs and living life to the full.

The Wolf of Wall Street portrays a debauched, depraved period of recent American history. There is some affection here for its protagonists, they are shown as almost lovable oafish epicureans, devoted to enjoying life and getting rich. It is three hours long, but it moves at such a pace it feels like much less. It is relentless, energetic, frequently hilarious, and a boat load of fun. 

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