|Worth seeing:||if you want an unmistakable Scorsese film about the worst that the 1980s had to offer that takes too long to tell us too little|
|Featuring:||Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, Ethan Suplee, Jean Dujardin, Joanna Lumley, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, Jonah Hill, Kyle Chandler, Matthew McConaughey, PJ Byrne, Rob Reiner, Shea Whigham|
|Released:||17th January 2014|
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Fresh-faced, naive and in his early twenties, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) gets a job in a major Wall Street stockbroking firm and after after some lessons from the unscrupulous boss (Matthew McConaughey), he enjoys starting to live the high life. But when the company folds during the economic crash, he’s left destitute.
Desperate for any job he can get, he finds a team of back-street brokers, trading in penny shares that can’t possibly make anyone any real money – or can they? Using the techniques he learned on Wall Street and taking full advantage of the odd loophole, Jordan is soon pulling in so much cash that the firm has to keep taking on more staff and bigger premises.
With success comes copious amounts of drink, drugs, loose women, fancy apartments, yachts – pretty much anything he’s ever dreamed of.
But when he tries to boost his firm’s profile by taking a major corporation public, the authorities get suspicious about how he’s making his money. With the FBI breathing down his neck, it looks like his dream could collapse as quickly as the economy did, just a few years earlier.
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
Starting at a point some way into the story before flashing back, with a voiceover from the single protagonist who rises and falls, this looks and feels like a Scorsese film – specifically, it looks and feels like Goodfellas, on the trading floor.
While it’s bright and fresh and bursting with fun – at first, at least – it begins to feel very tired very quickly – and when the darkness begins to fall, it’s a long and very slow decline, taking – as it does – a full three hours for the inevitable plot to unfurl.
One of the main obstacles to really liking this film is that while Jordan Belfort is clearly very charismatic – and it’s easy to see how he managed to win over his staff and clients alike – in reality, he’s a drug-addicted, alcoholic fraudster with a short fuse who cheats on his wife – and there’s never any recognition from him that this is not, perhaps, the most moral way to behave.
But while this sounds extreme – there’s none of the bloodshed that Scorsese has treated us to in many previous films of this kind, even though the stakes are every bit as high. Interestingly, at a time when the BBFC is redrawing some of its criteria for rating films, despite the drug-fuelled sex romps, the lack of violence makes an 18 certificate feel harsh and questions the morality of western culture, when blood and guts are waved through 15 certificates willy nilly.
There’s a large supporting cast, including the authorities, his legal team, his long-suffering second-wife, but we only ever get to really know one of his colleagues – his number two Donnie (Jonah Hill), who’s little more than a shorter, fatter Jordan with glasses and big teeth. Apart from one sharp confrontation with the central character, his FBI nemesis (Kyle Chandler) doesn’t get the opportunity to set up any kind of classic hunter-hunted dynamic. It’s a shame that the most entertaining supporting character – and probably the man I’d have much preferred to spend three hours with – Matthew McConaughey, is left behind with the Wall Street crash.
Out of context, this film would be an enjoyable enough romp through the seedy underbelly of the riches that come from unscrupulous share deals and the immorality that trails in their wake, but coming from a director who’s made many similarly themed films much better in the past, it makes you wonder why he bothered with this – and why he expects us to want to go on this journey with him again, without showing us any new sights.
Scorsese and DiCaprio clearly enjoy working with each other and the director has achieved as much success with his latest male muse as he did with his earlier collaboration with Robert De Niro, but this time round, the final product has plenty of glitz and glamour but very little depth.
While Jordan is on the way up, the film is fun, but once his decline kicks in, it’s really quite dark, making its recent Golden Globe success in the comedy category feel someone ill-fitting. DiCaprio himself, as he collected his trophy, expressed his surprise that this larger than life performance earned him a comedy award,
And the final message of the film is a little ambiguous – if it’s suggesting that drug addiction has a bad side, or using prostitutes can be bad for your marriage, we kind of know that. If it’s warning that conmen can be charming, you’d kind of expect that. If it’s saying that there’s no such thing as a get-rich-quick scheme, that doesn’t particularly chime with where Jordan eventually leaves us.
Scorsese clearly wants us to like Jordan, but in three hours, he doesn’t really offer us many reasons why we should. His boyish good looks and his love for his children isn’t enough – but while many on the religious right and political left would disapprove of his behaviour, he’s also not evil enough to be one of cinema’s great bad guys. He’s not nice. He’s not nasty. And he’s not really anything in between either.