Monday, 3 February 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street - Film Review

I'm going to begin with a confession which may come across as admitting that my review of this film will be somewhat biased: I'm not a huge fan of Leonardo DiCaprio. Never have been. I just don't find him particularly convincing in anything I've seen him in. Even those films of his which I have enjoyed watching and enjoyed his performance he is easily upstaged by his co-stars, all the time. Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt acted rings round him in |Inception, Day-Lewis stole the show hook, line and butcher's cleaver in Gangs of New York and even Claire Danes Juliet had more of a backbone than his whiny, immature Romeo. This is not the mark of a good leading man. 

So with that out of the way, lets talk about the film itself. It's an adaptation of Jordon Belfort's memoirs of the same name and directed by the iconic Martin Scorsese; iconic in that even if you have never seen one of his films, you will have definitely heard of his name. The book charts Belfort's life from getting his first job as a stock broker and becoming one of the most infamous figures in all of fraud and stock manipulation, that most extensive demographic of notoriety. On this path he shows himself to be a lying, womanising, wife-beating philanderer who revels in the high octane (or just plain high) lifestyle of the mega rich, who works his way up so far to start a downward spiral of self destruction by fornicating with every pair of breasts he sees, using his ready to collapse nasal passages to snort enough cocaine to put Cuba out of business with the efficiency of a high powered Dyson and spending his free time with bouts of dwarf tossing. I'm not even making that last part up. It's the first scene of the film. That alone should give you an indication of what you are going to be in for. It sets the mood of film and doesn't let up. It's outlandish, offensive but entertaining as hell.

I haven't read the book yet but just based on the film I find it incredible this is not only based on actual events, but it's an admission from the person in question that this actually happened. No one is this honest when they talk about themselves and he tars himself with a brush big enough to resurface the M1. He's either exaggerating or he was actually much worse in real life. That's a scary thought.  

Needless to say this is a story about a man who is, to put it mildly, not very pleasant. Entertaining to watch of course but not someone you'd want over tea and scones. DiCaprio to his credit makes the character of Jordan Belfort very interesting to watch but you don't really have much choice in the matter because this film is pretty much all him. Given that he is both the narrator and lead character he is either on screen or has voice over for more than 90% of the film's three hour running time. That's a crap load of DiCaprio to digest.

There are times when DiCaprio shines however, mainly during the quiet moments and the emotional scenes where you genuinely feel empathy with what his character is doing or has gone through. There are other times however when he plays the wildly gesticulating, bug eyed drug addict who chews the scenery so much you can see the teeth marks. I understand what he was going for but DiCaprio takes it too far and almost comes off as him trying out his best 'bad' Nicholas Cage impression. During in the film he has two charged arguments with his wife and both of them fall flat; he shouts too much, it loses it's impact and it almost feels like it's being played for laughs that never come. When he's good though, he is remarkably good but when he starts bellowing down that mic in front of his works staff with his really awkward to watch morale speeches, he looses the credibility he was working so hard to achieve. 

He has however been nominated for an Oscar for this role, actually the whole film has been nominated for several. Does he deserve it? Personally I think that if he didn't win it for 'What's Eating Gilbert Grape' he shouldn't get it for this. Also this demonstrates just how utterly robbed Johnny Depp was for not getting any recognition as Hunter S Thompson in Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. I got the impression that it was that kind of erratic nuance that DiCaprio was going for but over reached himself to the point of it becoming parody.

Speaking of Oscars, one of the other nominations for this film is best supporting actor for Jonah Hill as Donnie Azoff; Belfort's right hand man and closest friend throughout the entire story. I had serious reservations about Hill being in this, I despised Superbad and have pretty much disliked anything I've seen him in. This film however was a revelation of sorts; for the first time ever this guy actually made me laugh at something he said and his delivery. I was genuinely surprised and enjoyed every moment he was on screen. His character was both grotesque and arrogant but he was supposed to be and that's how Hill played him. He felt more at home in a Scorsese film than DiCaprio has ever done. What I found strange is that he seemed to channelling his performance two separate sources; one being Joe Peci and the other being Forest Whitaker. Hill and Whitaker look about as alike as Sylvester Stallone and Meryl Streep and it's probably just me who can see this but there's something about Hill's mannerisms in this film that remind of Whittaker; specifically his cameo in The Colour of Money. It's the same social awkwardness but overly friendly personality which disguises a hidden agenda. It's a great bit of acting for Hill he went all out in this role and wasn't afraid to gross out the audience for the sake of character traits. The script didn't allow for it but I would have loved if Hill went completely Goodfellas on us. He had such rage and intensity but his character was such a wimpy pushover that every time he got to a point where you thought he could potentially pull out a semi auto and blast the guy in the kneecaps, he unceremoniously gets bitch-slapped to the ground for the umpteenth time.

You thought Peci was both funny (as in a clown funny) and terrifying in as quick as a transition as it takes to raise an eyebrow but think of how scary it would be for someone of Hill's stature and appearance to suddenly go Norman Bates on your arse. I think he has the dead eye, glassy stare of a sociopath down to a T too and at times his performance in this film is both creepy and captivating. Someone please give this guy a role with some balls, that it something I would love to see.

 Overall the film was good, not great but good and well worth going to see. It will divide opinions though as it's very graphic and at times very uncomfortable to watch. Even though it is three hours in length it doesn't feel like a long film, it's fairly swiftly paced and there only some occasions where I felt like certain scenes dragged on needlessly. Main example is the physical comedy of DiCaprio attempting to get to his car in a rather drugged up state of being. As funny as that was it didn't need to go on as long as it did, it could have been cut slightly and been just as amusing.

When I left the cinema I overheard a young couple give their thoughts on the film.

Guy - What did you think?

Girl - I thought it was absolutely awful

Guy - Really?

Girl - Yeah, what did you think?

Guy - I thought it was f***ing awesome!

Such vastly different opinions and yet both of them had a smile on their face when they were discussing it. Like or loath this, you will definitely leave feeling better about yourself at the least


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