January 16, 2014 by Hope W.
The Wolf of Wall Street was one of the most surprising films to come out of last year for me — in that it took my preconceived notions of what the film would be like, turned them on their head, and made me like it, almost against my will. Due to the vulgar flashiness of the trailers, I went into it expecting to hate it, because I dislike gratuitous films that glorify debauchery; but it turned out to be an exhilaratingly wild ride through the excesses of Wall Street culture that makes entertainment out of immorality without condoning their behaviour.
Though the characters revelled in their shamelessly hedonistic and wanton lives, and I laughed at their antics, never once was I made to think that any of it was okay. Instead, I laugh because what they are doing is so obscene, depraved and f**ked up; normal, sane, conscionable people cannot possibly do the things that we see these crazy, rich, arrogant people with too much money on their hands do. It ventures into the realm of the unreal, and thus by virtue becomes funny. (It’s kind of like the idea of the “so bad it’s good” movie — except here it’s “so appalling, it’s entertaining”.)
Adding to the levity are the ingenious period references — such as the Naomi being introduced like a game show prize, when Jordan gives Naomi (Margot Robbie) her yacht; as well as Jordan’s ’90s-style commercial for his seminar series, complete with testimonials and all, which unexpectedly ended with him getting arrested on camera.
As I mentioned in my Golden Globes roundup, Leonardo DiCaprio is the revelation of the movie as Jordan Belfort, the swindling stockbroker who lived a hard-partying lifestyle, and was later jailed for fraud. He went balls out insane for this role, and reached comedic heights that I never knew he possessed. And Jonah Hill, who plays Jordan’s best friend Donnie Azoff, matched him in his craziness with every ounce he had — there never was a more perfect role for this comic actor. Margot Robbie is remarkably good too for a newcomer. RollingStone describes her as having “subtly coquettish” eyes, and that attribute in part is why she is electrifying as Jordan Belfort’s sex siren of a wife. The scene where she quarrels with Leo and throws water in his face is a particular highlight — it’s an about-turn from everything we have seen from her at that point in the movie; also, both actors play off each other’s outraged reactions so well. (The editing was a factor too.)
The ensemble cast is excellent. Jean Dujardin is marvellous as the Swiss banker whose bank Jordan chooses to hide his wealth from the Feds. As seen in The Artist, his comically expressive face is his standout feature, and director Martin Scorsese doesn’t waste the opportunity here to insert a tongue-in-cheek scene where both he and Leo are in close-up, communicating and insulting each other with just their expressions, yet understanding each other perfectly.
Matthew McConaughey continues his career renaissance with an appearance in another stellar movie this year as Jordan’s mentor — both in stockbroking and the ways of the vices — though his flippant (and a little nutty) character only shows up for all of ten minutes. Other great mentions include Kyle Chandler as the straight-shooting FBI agent investigating Jordan, Jon Bernthal as muscle man Brad, Rob Reiner as Jordan’s dad, Joanna Lumley as Aunt Emma, the rest of the Stratton Oakmont team… I would go as far as to say they gave the best collective performance of last year (though American Hustle‘s remains my favourite ensemble cast).
Of course, such a film is bound to be divisive, as evidenced by reports of Martin Scorsese being heckled after a screening, and mixed reviews by the critics — some who enjoyed it, and others who couldn’t get past the immorality. (It certainly didn’t hurt its Oscar chances though.) Those who are greatly adverse to watching explicit sex scenes, nudity, and people doing drugs — and there is SO MUCH OF IT — will go away repulsed and feeling that the filmmakers are championing such a lifestyle by making it all look so “fun”.
As for me, while I was disgusted by all the acts on screen, I have been desensitised into not turning away, which allowed me to look past the filth and therefore find the humour in it.