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Review: Leonardo DiCaprio excels in Wolf Of Wall Street

January 03, 2014 16:40 IST
Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf Of Wall SreetThe Wolf of Wall Street has its moments but it is director Martin Scorsese’s weakest attempt at film-making, says Aseem Chhabra.

If I was 20-something and Leonardo DiCaprio (I mean DiCaprio playing Jordan Belfort) ran a cult, I would have certainly joined it. 

Even now, as I watched DiCaprio’s performance (perhaps his career best) in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street I marvelled at what a fine actor he is. 

High on cocaine he stands before his employees at the Long Island-based brokerage house, Stratton Oakmont, speaking like an evangelist, telling them there are no virtues in being poor and that greed is indeed good.  

'There is no nobility in poverty,' Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) says, sounding just like Gordon Gekko, the character made famous by Michael Douglas in the 1987 film Wall Street.

In one of the best scenes in the film, the young Jordan listens to his mentor (Matthew McConaughey) give him pointers on how to become a successful Wall Street trader. 

They include self-pleasure and snorting a lot of cocaine.

And soon enough, Belfort becomes a snake, ready for the kill, preying on his unsuspecting salaried/retired, middle class customers.

'Good luck on the subway ride home,' Belfort yells out to an FBI agent (played by Kyle Chandler) in a rather cutting tone. Every New York City subway rider in the audience must have felt somewhat insulted by DiCaprio’s condescending tone. 

In another fun scene he sits in a London park with his wife’s British aunt (Joanna Lumley) making financial deals, while also flirting with her and thinking “Is she f****** hitting on me?” 
 
While Wolf is a DiCaprio show, it is also Scorsese’s attempt to examine yet again the dark side of the American dream, much as he did with his Italian mafia saga Goodfellas, the Irish immigrant story Gangs of New York, and the Jewish mob tale in Casino.  
 
It is once again a testosterone-infused larger-than-life story that the 71-year-old director skillfully explores and brings to the screen.
 
I am told that Wolf is a faithful adaptation of the autobiography of the same name written by the disgraced Jordan Belfort, who spent 22 months in a federal facility reserved for wealthy criminals. 
 
Author Belfort may have embellished sections of the book, but Scorsese leaves out nothing -- not the orgies with the strippers in the office, nor the very ugly dwarf-throwing party shown towards the beginning of the film. 
 
Wolf glorifies and celebrates the maddening hedonist lifestyle lived by young brokers, getting rich quickly on the not-so-legal penny stocks. 
 
It is a world where company credit cards are used to pay for escort services. Sex with co-workers and hookers during office hours is so rampant that even the messiah Belfort has to step in and introduce some rules. And so he issues a memo declaring the office a 'f***-free zone' from 8 am to 7 pm.
 
It all sounds outrageous and offensive. There is so much of drugs, sex and nudity in the film (the censored version to open in India will have six minutes of the debauchery cut off), that an elderly member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences walked up to Scorsese and said, 'Shame on you', and added that the film was 'disgusting.'
 
There has been enough criticism of how Wolf glorifies all that is wrong with Wall Street (including a piece I wrote earlier, where I referred to the film as irresponsible), to put both Scorsese and DiCaprio on the defensive. 
 
In being faithful to Belfort’s book, scriptwriter Terence Winter and Scorsese have created a high-on-energy but exhausting film, one that can perhaps best be enjoyed under the influence of a controlled substance. 
 
How else can a person with a sane mind sit comfortably for three hours (the original length of the film is 179 minutes) and watch DiCaprio’s Belfort hurl one maddening missile after another at us?
 
There are some funny moments in the film. 
 
The funniest is a 10-plus minute long scene with Belfort and his partner in crime Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) consuming large numbers of expired Quaalude pills. 
 
But other than DiCaprio and some strong supporting cast members (especially McConaughey in his brief appearance, and Hill as Belfort’s friend and compatriot in the madness), Wolf has nothing redeeming to offer. 
 
Scorsese plays Belfort’s tune without being even slightly judgmental about the protagonist’s life. 
 
It is almost like Scorsese got conned by one of the biggest con-men of our times.
 
Scorsese’s Belfort is not portrayed as a villain. It is clear that his 22-month-long prison term only happened because he got caught cheating. 
 
There is so much white collar crime that goes unnoticed in the world of investment banking, and so many innocent peoples lives are destroyed in the process. But Scorsese does not appear to care about that.
 
Wolf has some enjoyable moments but there is very little of the wow factor in the filmmaking. And so, when the dust settles, film historians will most probably judge Wolf as a minor work by Scorsese.
 
Rediff Rating: 
Aseem Chhabra in New York