Show me the money.
Not for the first time, Martin Scorsese heads up a project that revolves around the anticipation and acquisition of financial wealth and power in business, by any means necessary. Not unlike many of his Oscar stabs of the past decade or two, the means by which this almighty dollar is procured is not exactly legal.
It may not be as gratuitously illegal as skimming profits from casinos or working as a mob boss, and here it may be seen as white collar crime as opposed to anything else, but nonetheless, the philosophy is just the same. Get rich, it doesn’t matter how.
Maybe understandably, Scorsese was reported to be initially reluctant to get involved in the project when Leonardo Di Caprio suggested it to him. After all, this is not exactly new territory for him and you could easily understand if he‘d felt that this is a subject that he’d already covered. An adaptation of the book, it tells the story of Jordan Belfort, played by Di Caprio, and his stratospheric rise to power and glory before the now almost inevitable fall. Starting with his introduction to Wall Street by Matthew McConaughey, still lean and sinewy from Dallas Buyers Club, he literally learns the tricks of the trades, before the stock market collapse of 1987, which also happened to be his first day as a bonafide stockbroker. I mean, what are the odds, right?
If you pop your head into any industry or entertainment periodical, you will see the same thing repeated apparently ad infinitum. Words like ‘excess’, ‘debauched’ and ‘vulgar’. These are all perfectly valid accusations thrown at a film that is as true to its subject as it can possibly be. Unlike its stars, the story is often far from pretty, but Scorsese wants to show you warts and all, even if it does come across as glamorising greed and envy to such an extent as to make the average bookmaker pack up his job and donate his salary to the society for needy, fluffy kittens.
And let’s not sugar-coat the individuals featured here. Unsavoury, ruthless gluttons that would sell their own mothers if there was the remotest chance of making a profit from them. Misogynists, by and large, with addictive traits, that represent the very worst that humanity can offer as examples of themselves. So, why do we like them? Shouldn’t we loathe these vile, massively entertaining individuals?
And hard-pressed as your conscience may be when trying to be appalled, it is amazingly easy to like Belfort and his money-grubbing, coke-snorting cronies. Perhaps this infectious charm and the complete disregard for social conventions and acceptable behaviour was what made them not only attractive, but also fabulously wealthy. You don’t get to be a self-made multi-millionaire without either having a certain amount of pointed charm, or at least know someone very well who does and doesn’t mind either teaching you or cutting you in.
But the road to ugly affluence is not all it’s cracked up to be. Here, we see, to an admittedly lesser extent, the costs of such a lifestyle. It is not without stress and trial and to be sure that whatever else happens, your sins are likely to find you out. But does it matter? Are there any consequences? The real question about the film should be why it was made? No, it doesn’t have a moral high ground, it doesn’t purport to educate or even enlighten, but if anything is true, it entertains more than most of Scorsese’s work to date. It’s not subtle or polished and the acting on show is markedly below par on several occasions, but for sheer value for money, this is the great man at his most flamboyant and carefree. Most of his work thus far has appeared to be difficult to get in the can. Here, it seems like the cast and crew had a positive blast getting this made. It is unusual, surprising and welcome to laugh out loud at a Scorsese picture for the first time in what feels like forever. His skill here is making these repellent characters on show completely engaging to an audience that would probably consider spitting in the eye of anyone of them that came near in reality. Credit is due also to the cast, who frankly, sparkle, like only those performers on top of their game and loving it really can. Like their characters, this cast is infectious and impossible to ignore. Jonah Hill provides early comedy relief, but if we’re honest, every character gets to show off their funny bone from time to time, some with more success than others, of course, but nonetheless, most of the delivery is excellent and the script is able to soar when placed in the mouths of this group of actors, both in times of mirth as well as misery.
In summary, Scorsese has crafted an undeniably delightful and engaging film with what is only a whiff of a story within it. Largely ruled by an effectively written and delivered script, the period feels authentic and it boasts enough class and smarts to be deemed great, even if it doesn’t quite make it to what we would like to have called a classic. Cast and crew should be applauded for one of the most entertaining movies of the year, even if it does not turn out to be the best in many areas, it is certainly in danger of being lauded as the most well respected fun you can have for three hours in a cinema on your own.