I’ve been known, on occasion, to bag on Leonardo DiCaprio. To me he’s always been the smooth faced face of underwhelming prissy-boy 21st century acting. Even under Tarantino’s tutelage, with the role of Calvin Candie being as meaty as it was, his performance still lacked sting somehow. Enter 5-time collaborator and filmmaking MVP Martin Scorsese and his impeccable The Wolf of Wall Street. DiCaprio is finally given a character that matches the slime and the smarm that exudes from his very own face and he owns it.
The Wolf of Wall Street is a behemoth, a stampeding 3 hour mass of a film that wields debauchery like a sledgehammer, subsequently knocking everything out of the park. As much as I’ve been known to denigrate DiCaprio, I’ve also been known to heap praise on Scorsese. Well here, and without hyperbole, I can attest to the fact that he has fully outdone himself.
This is a film brimming with machismo, bravado and youthful exuberance to the extent that Scorsese betrays his phenomenal 71 years by colliding 5, 6, 7 generations of filmmakers and their films, and subsequently supersedes both his forefathers and his protege. Don’t get me wrong, this is no great leap in filmmaking, Scorsese just takes everything he knows and pushes it to their logical conclusions. That it to say that this film is pure Scorsese.
If you take the “meteoric rise” narratives of Goodfellas and Casino and supercharge them to midget-tossing excess, you arrive in TWOWS’s ballpark. DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfont is Henry Hill, literally on crack. His wealth makes Ace Rothstein look out of pocket. His whole life is so excessive that I was very surprised to learn that the true life Belfont is still alive. No amount of cinematic drug taking has surpassed this since Scarface.
Besides the praise usually extolled on DiCaprio and Scorsese, veterans of this sort of filmmaking, the films true standout is Superbad’s very own Jonah Hill. Stories of his improvisational talents and their infectious qualities regarding Marty and Leo have circulated in the many weeks prior to the films release and you can’t help but feel that it’s his comedic looseness that lends the whole film it’s crazed atmosphere.
Come awards season then, you have enough here to bury most of the competition. Scorsese is definitely deserving if not frontrunner for Best Director, having the most fun he’s had in his whole career and returning results as breathtaking as you could ever expect. Jonah Hill’s Best Supporting for his portrayal of solid gold dickhead Donnie Azoff would be hard to argue with. As would Best Screenplay for Terrence Winter with the zippiest piece of screenwriting I’ve witnessed since 2010’s The Social Network, a completely enviable piece of work.
However, if DiCaprio misses out on Oscar glory this time, then the Academy can most definitely be accused of lacking all relevancy, especially when considering Joaquin Phoenix’s The Master oversight last year (Although Chwitel Ejiofor’s heartbreaking turn in 12 Years A Slave is just as deserving, Leo’s Oscar is long overdue and it’s very likely they’ll give it to him for making him wait, like they did with Scorsese for The Departed).
Add to all that Matthew McConaughey in what is essentially a (sublime) cameo, showing Leo exactly how to exact himself in the following 2 hours 30, a sinking boat sequence that sinks the Titanic and a supporting cast as deep, varied and capable as the film itself and you’ve got a recipe for unadulterated entertainment.
This is not at all to say that the film is flawless. Three things stick out to me like the proverbial sore thumb, that prevent the film from “instant classic” status.
- Firstly, and probably only a minor gripe, is the anachronistic nature of the soundtrack. Decades portrayed and decades in music butt heads in numerous occasions, robbing the film of period accuracy.
- Secondly, and much more severe in it’s repercussion, the pacing. The first hour acts as a sledge hammer, not so much establishing the scene as thrusting you face first into it. The second hour slows to a grinding and violently obvious halt. This creates something of all lull but the final third of the film follows this second hour more closely and I’m presuming that further viewings will acclimatise the viewer to this slight inconsistency.
- Thirdly and more to do with the topic and it’s portrayal than the film itself is it’s blatant disregard for all that is moral. Presumably it’s adaptation from Belfont’s own book lends the film the hedonistic tone. Throughout the film, Belfont and his criminal cohort are always displayed as the “good guys”, all respect for the law and law enforcement is tossed aside. Kyle Chandler’s poor FBI agent is demeaned and emasculated in the face of DiCaprio’s obnoxious multi-millionaire. He is of course, just trying to do his job. It’s his very place in the film that is troubling, when you consider his small screen time and it’s resolute strictness to his day job. In the post The Wire world, is it okay to portray good and bad as simply just good and bad? After all, it is not ever that black and white.
On the bottom line, TWOWS is a, morbidly hilarious film achieving the unenviable task of being exhilarating for almost all 3 hours of its colossal running time. It’s a tour de force from all the parties involved. This is entertainment in it’s purest form. For adults only, but purely satisfying from any level and in every degree. Put shortly, it’s a fucking masterclass.
– Oliver Drew