Review: The Wolf of Wall Street ★★★★☆

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The fifth collaboration between Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street, cleverly offers what it promises: an actor at his best, and a director twisting around the conventional ‘money, sex, and drugs’ credo entailed when depicting the decadence of the wealthiest.

Based on Jordan Belfort’s memoirs, the film relates the ascension of the man within the world of finance, and his unquenchable thirst for money. Jordan Belfort, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is 22 when he first enters Wall Street as a stockbroker. Discovering the earning potential of penny stocks, Belfort hires a few friends and creates Stratton Oakmont. Classical depiction of the American Dream, from being a pond scum to a successful businessman, the film also deals with the other side of the coin, where a fortune is made on – nearly – legal theft, money laundering and, mostly, ignorance. Belfort repeatedly says it himself: who cares about understanding what is actually going on? Making money is the only goal.

Rhythmically organized around these talks to the camera, the overall pace of the film is, by far, one of his strength. The three hours of the Wolf of Wall Street are shrewdly crafted, alternating between Belfort’s delirious way of life, and his next-day struggles with both legal forces and hangovers. The opening scene, showing the head of Stratton Oakmont throwing dwarfs at an archery target to entertain his company, certainly sets the tone: the CEO calls that diversification, his father says obscene. The film counts 506 occurrences of the F- word, a public masturbation and a constant careless use of money. It is obscene, but also deeply enjoyable to watch.

After the heavily and awkwardly referenced Hugo (2011), it is also good to find Scorsese renewing with lighter and funnier cinematographic quotes. Jean Dujardin, whose success on the Anglo-saxon scene took off with The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius, 2011), is playing a role closer to his previous comedy characters, and especially his role in both OSS 117, the French parodies of the James Bond series (Hazanavicius, 2006 and 2009). Scorsese also scattered DiCaprio’s previous work across the film: from using the same font as Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar (2011) for one of J. Belfort’s presentation, to re-enacting a famous shipwreck, the references are numerous. They cleverly enhance the viewing for those who enjoy looking beyond the narrative level, without being a burden for viewers who would rather strictly stick to the film.

On the downside, Scorsese’s infamous jump cuts are still present within The Wolf of Wall Street, sometimes slightly degrading the quality of a scene. Having watched DiCaprio shining as a Wolf, whose crazy behaviour, to some degrees, echoes Django Unchained’s Calvin Candie (Quentin Tarantino, 2012), we might also hope that the actor will be able to keep renewing his acting throughout his future films in order to avoid getting stuck within certain roles.

Already nominated in major Oscar categories, The Wolf of Wall Street is flirting with both the blockbuster and cinephile audience, whilst managing to convey the delightfully outrageous biography without being moralistic. We shall just hope that its director, aged 71, will refrain from the near retirement he announced and gives us more of this fun than the mere two films he declared he had left to do.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2014), directed by Martin Scorsese, is released in UK cinemas by Universal Pictures, Certificate 18. 

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Ex-Film Editor and future ex-MA student, dissecting films since 2006.

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