Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Johan Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jean Dujardin
Written by Terence Winter and (based on his book) Jordan Belfort
Running Time: 180 mins
Release date: 17th January 2014
Martin Scorsese is back! After playing around with music documentaries (Shine A Light, George Harrison: Living In The Material World), a family film (Hugo) and a Gothic thriller (Shutter Island), the great director is on ground that suits him best. Large scale, epic dramas about the underbelly of America. Only this time, the drama is more a comedy and a very funny one at that too. It also has the best performance that Leonardo DiCaprio has produced in a very long time.
Jordan Belfort is a stockbroker with one vision: to make money. Starting life as a naive young thing with small dreams, working for a company who promised wealth to its buyers yet giving them nothing, Belfort is caught up in the crash of 87. Finding himself out of work, he stumbles into a company that sells penny shares to the low waged yet give a 50% return to the broker. Belfort finds a way to start making himself a lot of money, creating a company and taking it to the next level. With his friend Donnie Azoff, the pair start reaping the benefits of a brokers life: sex, drugs and obscene amounts of cash. Soon, Belfort starts attracting the attention of the FBI but he’s on a one way journey to self-destruction and this wolf is about to be bitten.
Coming in at a hefty 3 hours long, this is one long film about the excesses of greed and debauchery. Scorsese stops at nothing to show us the lifestyle that Belfort (based on his true story) had. He doesn’t hold back, so if you are easily offended by the sexual act, drug taking or the F-word, maybe you should step aside and let others see. If you are not, then you are in for a wild ride indeed because this is relentless in its telling of a life that was so hooked on these things, even at his darkest hour he could not stop.
It has all the tricks and flare of a Scorsese film: superb visuals, a proper understanding of making a film cinematically and a spot-on soundtrack. It also can be compared to his masterpiece, Goodfellas, except here, Belfort is no gangster, just a guy who was seduced by money and wanted to make as much he possibly could.
The film has been accused of failing to be sympathetic to those that Belfort “stole” from. Those people seemed to have missed the point. The point is that there are loads of men and women out there who are doing the same thing day in, day out, in the banking industry and the brokers world. This isn’t a film about the silent victims but about greed and animalistic attitudes to wealth. The scenes in which we see Belfort’s brokers acting like savage creatures waiting for the next kill is what is at the heart of this tale.
Belfort isn’t a sympathetic character and he isn’t shown in that light. He is a misogynistic, drug-induced liar who has the best that money can buy and he is still not satisfied. We watch him go from a simple young man who has a hairdresser as a wife and is struggling to make ends meet to having a blonde trophy wife, huge house, fast car and he’s still not happy. He is, in all sense of the word, vile. Yet we watch in amazement as this “King of the World” slowly heads for implosion.
It also helps that Belfort is played by DiCaprio, who gives it everything he’s got and more so. In a role that shows he can handle comedy as well as the heavy dramatic stuff, this is a career best. Full of energy, vibrancy and fun, it’s nice to see him more relaxed and not taking himself so seriously, which he has been accused of in the past. Acting as narrator (like Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill) he leads us into the dark and disgraceful world of money hounds, yet all the while keeping it light and never dropping that energy level.
He has plenty of terrific support. Matthew McConaughey has less than 15 minutes screen time and yet he really makes an impact, with a brilliant speech about how the stock market really works that even a layman like myself could fully understand. Rob Reiner is hilarious as Belfort’s explosive father and Margot Robbie manages to keep up with the big men as Belfort’s second wife, Naomi. The real revelation is Johan Hill, who has proven himself a solid actor in Moneyball. Here, he really gets to shine as Belfort’s friend, Donnie. Mixing comedy with some strong dramatic scenes, this could be a career turner for the once Superbad star and maybe we will see him in more dramatic roles in the future.
Morally the film is all over the place and at 3 hours it could have been trimmed but it is never boring, sometimes laugh-out-loud hilarious and a fascinating insight into a world we rarely see. If this film belongs to anybody, it belongs to Scorsese and DiCaprio. This is their fifth film together and by far, their best.