Fascinating and repellent. There is something mesmerising about films which portray the wheeler dealers of big finance, especially on Wall Street.
In the 1980s, Oliver Stone gave us the archetypal insider dealer, Gordon Gecko. Other films which led us into the world of finance and sales include Glengarry Glen Ross, based on David Mamet’s play, and the world of young dealers in Boiler Room. While 2013’s American Hustle is about fraud, it is still based on the premise of getting money as the most important quest in life.
The misquote from the Letter of James, ‘money is the root of all evil’, actually reads ‘the love of money is the root of all evil’. And the behaviour of Jordan Belfort and the other brokers in The Wolf of Wall Street certainly illustrate this dictum. So here is Martin Scorsese’s take on this world, his fifth collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio.
There has been quite some controversy about this film, some claiming that it glorified this self-centred, warped and sometimes degrading world. Those who defend it say it is ‘a cautionary tale’, not an exhortation to be another Jordan Belfort. Some audiences have been disgusted by several orgiastic interludes but out of a film that runs for 175 minutes, they are comparatively brief and are meant to illustrate the way of life that the central character, Jordan Belfort, has become accustomed to.
In this kind of cautionary tale, there is always the possibility, especially in the early part of the film, that some members of the audience, especially ambitious men, might identify with this kind of behaviour. But, as Jordan’s father reminds him early in the film and he neglects to remember it, chickens come home to roost. Nothing succeeds like excess – until it catches up with you.
Leonardo DiCaprio has won some awards for his performance as Jordan Belfort. This time he is something of a combination of his landowner in Django Unchained and the great Gatsby. Starting as a naive young man with ambitions, he is overwhelmed by the energy and frenzy of the brokers on Wall Street, listening attentively to his mentor or, a very effective small cameo from Matthew McConaughey, who glorifies the exhilaration of making money, egged on by cocaine, alcohol and womanising. It is not long before Jordan is not only part of this world but a leader.
Often it is said that this is an amoral world and, indeed, it is. But on the evidence of The Wolf of Wall Street, it is an immoral world, recklessly so, exploitative lease so. But this is not to say that it is advocating this kind of world – it is presenting it in a way that is both fascinating and repellent - Peter Malone, ACOFB
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Rob Reiner, Jean Desjardin, Jon Bernthal, Matthew Mc Connaughey, Jon Favreau, Joanna Lumley. Directed by Martin Scorsese. Rated R (High impact sex scenes and drug use). 175 minutes.