14th Jan2014

‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ Review

by Ian Loring

Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, Rob Reiner, Christine Ebersole | Written by Terence Winter | Directed by Martin Scorsese

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Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio have made an eclectic slate of cinema together ranging from the historical epic of Gangs of New York to the throwback paranoia inflected chills of Shutter Island but they’ve never made a film aiming to be a guilty pleasure. Make no mistake, while The Wolf of Wall Street certainly has saliant points to make about how excess corrupts and how the financial service industry seems perpetually broken, the main thing on this film’s mind is to wallow in the lifestyle of the rich and powerful Jordan Belfont, a man who never met a substance he wouldn’t put into his bloodstream.

Leonardo DiCaprio has been impressive on screen many times but this is as we’ve never seen him before with Belfort’s spirit consuming him entirely, a man of stark intelligence, wit and charisma but one who succombs to temptation more in the runtime of this film than most men would do in half their lifetimes. The skill of DiCaprio here is that though Belfort is a “big” presence, one who becomes the centre of gravity of any room he’s in, the performance itself not once comes off as showy. Whether screaming at his wife or MC’ing the most insane dress-down Friday you’ve ever seen, it just feels like you’re watching this character play his part in the grand circus he’s made for himself and it’s a genuine pleasure to witness throughout.

As is Martin Scorsese’s direction with a 179 minute runtime, just about managing to make a cut befitting a required sub 3-hour length, which zips along with a paciness which would trouble directors half his age. The high-intensity, never slowing down atmosphere of Belfort’s offices is mirrored in the film’s handling of the material, barely stopping for breath until the expected recriminations and dramas of the film’s final act take hold and until this point aiming to make us laugh with guilty glee as Belfort breaks the fourth wall and invites us to indulge with him.

Speaking of indulging with him, Jonah Hill also fulfills a life long dream by appearing in a Scorsese film and aces it throughout. A strange man with strange predilictions, Hill again wholly embodies the part, certainly acting as a comedic sidekick but never feeling like he’s just filling a required trope in the role. Hill’s natural leanings towards comedy help but the chemistry he manages to capture with DiCaprio, no mean feat given the frankly wide physical gulf between the two men, is hugely impressive and makes for material which does become somewhat emotionally affecting by their final scenes. The rest of the cast are frankly not as prominent but Margot Robbie holds her own with a part which could have been all body and no brain in other hands but becomes a strong presence who knows her assets and uses them well and Kyle Chandler brings a palpable vunerability to his do-gooder FBI agent.

Entertaining from start to end, and for me not too long at all, The Wolf of Wall Street makes an extremely early claim for Best of 2014 lists, at least in the UK, with Scorsese and DiCaprio making another impressive collabaration which will infuriate some but will delight many others.

***** 5/5

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