The Wolf of Wall Street

****1/2

Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

The Wolf Of Wall Street
"This is how you destroy people's dignity and make them yours, Scorsese seems to say."

More Casino than The Aviator, the women are given their strength through trickery. No Katharine Hepburn descendant in spirit gets a foot in Martin Scorsese's spectacular morality play The Wolf Of Wall Street.

"Money makes you a better person," proffers Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort into the camera right at the start. "You can save the goddamned Spotted Owl," he continues, which could be read as a sly aside about DiCaprio's important work in the protection of wildlife.

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In the course of the film, based on the real (convicted felon) Belfort's memoir, nothing is going to be considered worth saving, least of all wildlife. The excesses with drugs and sex are fueled by the urge to humiliate - others and the self. The lion that walks through a busy Wall Street office, and the sidewalks below, passing bulls and bears, in a commercial for Belfort's company that promises integrity and pride, takes these qualities with him in the first minutes of the film and leaves us in the company of wolves.

They target the pleasures of immediate gratification. Nothing changes, Scorsese does not budge. Without mercy he piles shouting on top of shouting. Riches upon riches. No taste, no subtlety. All is blurred because the pursuit of more wealth and more drugs and more women to degrade does not go with a clear head.

The two most jaw-dropping pill addicts this holiday season are played by DiCaprio here and Meryl Streep in John Wells's August: Osage County. The perspectives the films' directors chose are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Whereas Streep's Violet Weston's path of destruction is watched from the outside - we are her dinner guests, get close to her children, understand her husband's inkling for committing suicide - Scorsese handcuffs us to DiCaprio's Belfort. The destroyer's slant is alluring in some over-the-top sequences and never more frightening than when we wake up with him after a remarkably drug-induced night to a reality that has nothing to do with the pictures we had just seen.

There haven't been many memory losses as chillingly effective since Arthur Ripley's The Chase (1946) - that I can recall.

Matthew McConaughey embodies Mark Hanna, who shows the young Belfort the rules of the game as his boss in the first firm he works for. At lunch in a restaurant overlooking the city from on high, Hanna bangs his chest and sings a war-chant improvised by McConaughey which made it into the film.

The trading floor survival kit consists of cocaine and martinis, "two every five minutes, till one of us passes out," because nothing in this world of finance is real, "fairy dust," because "we don't build anything." McConaughey grimaces, pokes intensity ascending, banging his chest, "you got to stay relaxed, man." Belfort nibbles on an olive - the deal with the devil made with a song.

Belfort has a wife, "Theresa, who cuts hair" (played by Cristin Milioti), and his first day as a stock broker, Black Monday, October19, 1987, Wall Street experiences the biggest plummet since 1929.

In a rundown mall on Long Island, the education of Jordan Belfort continues. An investment center resembling the pooling of the bureaucratic branches of a funeral home with a horse-betting place, gives him a job. Dwight, the boss, played beautifully and sheepishly by Spike Jonze, explains the world of pink sheets and pennystocks. Jonze's smile and moustache resemble his hero in Her.

In comes Jonah Hill as side-kick Donnie Azoff, a most dangerous creature in this morally bankrupt world. When he first approaches Belfort in a diner , because they live in the same apartment building and he covets the neighbor's car, Donnie wears a pastel wanna be preppy shirt that visually quarters his upper body. Riches, cocaine, prostitutes, Quaaludes in total excess become the four pillars of his longing to be like Belfort, or to be Belfort. He wants to swallow his new boss up completely with his ferocious appetite to escape the shame of his own life's actuality as an overweight repressed man who married his first cousin and has two children with her. "65% chance the kids could have been retarded," he says, foregoing political correctness, winking at Belfort through his "horn-rimmed clear glasses, to look more waspy".

In order to avoid what could be dealt with, he becomes a ruthless swine whose main goal is to have other people debase themselves around him. Jonah Hill gives it his all and a new face to 'dishonorable' as Donnie, schoolfriend of shoe designer Steve Madden (Jake Hoffman). "Enter Steve Madden - pond scum no more, " Donnie knows as the ads of anorexic girls with bobble heads and clunky, square-toed footwear become the firm's "golden ticket."

Issues of being in and out of control command the movements of the script by Terence Winter. Scorsese has fun with "Amish Buddhists" as he shuttles back and forth in time.

The mad crowd of Wall Street brokers responding to Belfort's Goebbels-inspired speeches includes a few women. The price they pay to become one of the boys is illustrated by a most effectively savage scene. A secretary (newcomer Natasha Newman Thomas) allows her head to be shaved for money by a drunken employee as part of the shameless Friday Night office misery in front of a hysterically out-of-control mob of co-workers.

The cruel barber leaves some strands of her shoulder-length hair on the skull, while tears well up in the woman's eyes and she bitterly holds on to the stack of bills they shoved in her hands. "Danielle shaves her hair for $10,000 and promises to get breast implants", Belfort shouts to his employees, who break into barbarous applause. And this isn't even the main attraction - the decadence continues with a marching band of strippers, while the wounded employee slinks off. A girl just lost her soul.

This is how you destroy people's dignity and make them yours, Scorsese seems to say with every act of ruthlessness into the abyss of self-loathing sadistic bastards.

A Forbes profile names Belfort the "Wolf of Wall Street" and the FBI starts to become interested. The investigation is headed by Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) whose integrity makes him an oddity.

As the company, founded by Belfort with the help of his old drug dealing pals lifts off, his wife's conscience becomes a hindrance. "Pedigree and urgency," are his magical words to have customers part with their money, even his father Max (Rob Reiner) becomes part of the firm, although he questions his son "Jordi" about spending $26,000 for one dinner.

At a party, Belfort meets Naomi (Margot Robbie),"the duchess of Bay Ridge" who drinks her wine with a straw, designs lingerie, and knows how to use her body. He proposes at the Four Seasons pool room, has a bachelor weekend for 28 million in Las Vegas, gives her a yacht as a wedding present and they live happily ever after. Only, they don't. Money has to be brought to Switzerland, where banker Jean-Jacques Saurel, played with devilish conviction by The Artist's, Jean Dujardin can help hide it from the FBI.

Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, who previously worked with Ben Affleck on Argo, shows a land with no veils. The truth is out there, as when the wolf becomes a crawling worm, sedated out of the remnants of his mind, ready to hallucinate the rest. Fran Lebowitz fittingly pronounces the judgement.

Dr. David Huxley (Cary Grant) in Howard Hawks's Bringing Up Baby perfectly expresses to Katharine Hepburn's character my feelings about The Wolf Of Wall Street: "In moments of quiet, I'm strangely drawn toward you, but, well, there haven't been any quiet moments."

Scorsese pushes us to the limit and Leonardo DiCaprio had to play Belfort - his charisma chaperones us to hell. You have to succumb to the madness that is our own.

Reviewed on: 16 Jan 2014
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The Wolf of Wall Street packshot
Based on the true story of the rise and fall of a financial high roller.
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Angus Wolfe Murray ***1/2

Director: Martin Scorsese

Writer: Terence Winter, based on the book by Jordan Belfort

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin, Joanna Lumley, Cristin Milioti, Christine Ebersole, Shea Whigham, Katarina Cas, P.J. Byrne

Year: 2013

Runtime: 180 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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