Wolf of Wall Street



Main Cast: Leonardo Di Caprio, Jonah Hill

Director: Martin Scorsese

Hospital Ward PD

We did our best to make our quarantine pleasant. I think we did smashingly well.

Well, it has been a very trying day here at Chateau Maine.  It started innocently enough this morning with a little post-holiday brunch for the production team of my new football musical, Any Given Sunday in the Park.  We had just finished the chicken divan and were on to the ambrosia salad course (along with a fresh pitcher of mimosas) when there was a sudden sound of helicopters overhead.  They were interrupting the scintillating conversation so I sent Normy out to the porte-cochere to see what might be going on.  He came back at a run spouting something about aliens.  Well, no one interrupts an intime Vicki Lester social event so I strode out to give whatever it was a piece of my mind.  I was greeted by a number of rather overweight CDC agents in hazmat suits descending from a fleet of choppers on ropes all over the grounds.  Before I could ask them what they were doing, they were trashing the topiary, unplugging my carefully planned holiday light display and rounding us all up in the central hall and draping us in plastic while forbidding us to go anywhere.

While I and my guests were quarantined in a sort of large plastic bubble (I did have the agents agree to pass in the food and the mimosas so we could continue to make merry, even with the uncomfortable relocation), Joseph, my manager, did manage to get some authorities on his I-phone to determine what the heck was going on.  Apparently there was a clerical error in the press office and our billboards, which were supposed to say ‘Vicki Lester is bringing you the E-bowl!   Aaaaah!’ went up saying ‘Vicki Lester is bringing you Ebola’.  There were apparently complaints and a run by segments of the public on Rite-Aid demanding Ebola shots.  The CDC decided quarantine was the appropriate measure until the whole thing could be sorted out.

They have slipped in cots, blankets, a Netflix equipped computer with a midsize screen so we are all going to make the best of it and get pleasantly squiffy and catch up on some film watching.  The consensus was a viewing of Martin Scorsese’s latest Leonardo DiCaprio epic from last year, The Wolf of Wall Street, which I had not yet seen.  I therefore found a place on a cot between Joseph and Ginny, from billing, who seemed to have an inordinate fondness for the dessert tray and we all settled in for some enforced company bonding.

The Wolf of Wall Street is the story of financial shark Jordan Belfort and based on his memoir of the same name first published in 2007.  Young Jordan (Leonardo DiCaprio), a brash mid-20s guy, fairly fresh out of college and with a new broker’s license, goes to work for the Rothschild’s firm on Wall Street in late 1987.  Here, he meets Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), a senior broker with an odd attitude, a penchant for thumping his chest at lunch, and the ability to sell, sell, sell.  Jordan quickly soaks up these lessons then, alas, the crash of October 1987 hits and he finds himself out of job.  Thinking it’s time to get out of finance, he is instead encouraged by his wife (Cristin Millioti) to take a job with a penny stock firm in the wilds of Long Island.  Between their dubious ethics, his natural sales abilities and his learning from Hanna, he comes up with ways to quickly sell the unsuspecting public on dubious investments and transfer the majority of the money to his own pockets.  Teaming up with a schlub named Donnie Azroff (Jonah Hill), they together found the firm of Stratton Oakmont and soon are back on Wall Street in the go-go Clinton 90s, taking Wall Street by storm with their masters of the universe take no prisoners style of financial transactions.  In a world where everything’s a game and the money is the means of keeping score, Jordan rises fast and furiously, fueled by drugs, alcohol, strippers and the occasional zoo animal.  This brings the attention of the feds led by agent Denham (Kyle Chandler) and a cat and mouse game develops as what amounts to a criminal empire begins to unravel, both professionally and personally taking Jordan, his confederates and his family including trophy wife Naomi (Margot Robbie), his father (Rob Reiner) and his aunt by marriage (Joanna Lumley) with him.

The Wolf of Wall Street was a pet project of DiCaprio’s who bought the movie rights back when the memoir was originally published and was attached to various directors and studios until it came to Scorsese.  It’s a good match between director and material.  Scorsese and DiCaprio have worked together multiple times before successfully (The Departed) and not as successfully (Gangs of New York, The Aviator).  The performer/muse relationship between them is approaching classic status such as Jimmy Stewart and Hitchcock or Katherine Hepburn and George Cukor.  The Greek tragic roots of the tale appeal very much to Scorsese’s sensibilities and he treats Jordan’s rise from nothing to the pinnacle of success only to be undone by the very traits that made him successful with his usual operatic sweep.  I think a good part of the film’s success is that Scorsese understands that the underlying motif throughout is hubris and that the characters think that their money and position can place them above the gods of law and morality.  He gleefully showcases this time and again with actors yelling and screaming at each other as they try to make the world conform to them, coming to a height when Jordan decides to actually take on nature and forces his captain to take his yacht to sea and into a Mediterranean storm with tragically predictable results.

Leonardo Di Caprio by Georges Biard

Leonardo DiCaprio at the 2013 premier of The Wolf of Wall Street. Photo by Georges Biard.

Much has been made of the boorish frat house behavior displayed by the brokers as they waste their clients’ money in various debaucheries, many filmed in loving detail and which include in office bacchanalia which would make Pan and Dionysus blush.  To me, it’s not a glorification (even though preview audiences of financial types reportedly cheered and hooted at each new excess) but rather a commentary on capitalism’s equating of money with power which in turn places those with it above social rules.  It’s a variant on the old joke of various tellings to which the punchline is always ‘Aristocrats’. I wasn’t shocked by any of it, merely saddened to think that people would think that this would in any way improve themselves, their lives or their clients.

If the film has a major weakness, it’s that it more or less skips the consequences to all this chicanery outside of the lives of the brokers of Stratton Oakmont.  Who were the clients?  What were their motivations in investing?  What happened to them when their hard won earnings disappeared in cocaine fueled chartered jet orgies?  The feds talk about the fraud but we never see any practical implications to any of this.   It leaves the film with a bit of a moral vacuum at the center.  Are we supposed to be cheering Jordan, Donnie and company on for their successes or censuring them for their excesses?  It’s unclear.

The performances, as is usual for a Scorsese film, are excellent and both DiCaprio and Jonah Hill were Oscar nominated for their efforts.  The stand outs are the supporting players, especially Mr. McConaughey in his extended cameo early in the film and Rob Reiner as Jordan’s irascible father who gets pulled in as his son becomes more and more successful.   Margot Robbie, an actress new to me, makes a major impression as the model who seduces Jordan, breaking up his marriage, and who eventually marries him in an over the top Caribbean wedding and whose English aunt (Joanna Lumley finding a fine line between Julie Andrews and Patsy Stone) becomes important to the plot and money laundering schemes.

As drugs are an important element in Jordan’s day to day function, Scorsese and his cinematographer, Rodrigo Prieto, film through somewhat distorted lenses and from odd angles lending to a sense of disorientation.  He also uses various devices to keep us seeing things from Jordan’s addled and occasionally deluded point of view.  A sequence involving the driving of a very expensive sports car home from a country club is particularly memorable as are Jordan’s destroying his home trying to find his drug stashes after a particularly vicious fight with his wife.

This is not a film for everyone and it could have lost fifteen minutes or so in the editing process as the second half feels draggy, but in general it helps cement the team of Scorsese and DiCaprio as one to continue watching and to expect continued good things from in the future should they find the right properties.  I’m thinking perhaps Oedipus Rex.

Penny stocks.  Marching band.  Fish swallowing.  Gratuitous hotel suite trashing.  Naked broker behinds.  Ripped cushions.  Italian coast guard.  Slimy Swiss banker.  Infomercial filming. Gratuitous Slovenian money launderers. Real Jordan Belfort cameo.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction and visit her back catalog.

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