Friday, January 10, 2014

OSCAR WATCH: The Wolf of Wall Street

One of the best director-actor teams is back in the riotous comedy-drama "The Wolf of Wall Street". Directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, this film tells the raucous life story of Jordan Bellfort, a stockbroker who found success in the 1990s. Charting his career from beginning to end, we get an inside look into the life of those working in the business of Wall Street. As they become corrupted by greed, their lives spiral out of control as they indulge in every vice imaginable.

We've seen many films tackle the subject of greed and capitalism. Films like "Wall Street" and Scorsese's own "Casino" have already enlightened us to the depraved lifestyles of the rich and famous. With the "The Wolf of Wall Street" however, Scorsese goes one step further, showing the undermining factor behind their actions - addiction. Surely, that may sound too generalized as there are many forms of addiction - drugs, sex, shopping, alcohol. Well, this film incorporates all of them! Belfort and his pals are drug-addicted, sex-crazed, alcoholic materialists. There are no boundaries for these men, as money gives them the power do what ever they want.

Under the direction of Martin Scorsese, these excesses are given the pizazz they deserve. There are many scenes in the workplace, but don't expect the monotony of the setting in "Office Space". In this world, no single day is like the last. Heightened energy fuels lucrative financial negotiations and impulsive celebrations are the norm. Activities that most people would see as private (wild sex orgies, cocaine and crack usage) are celebrated and encouraged. These people are morally bankrupt in every way. Much like our titular antihero, these people would be better described as animals.

You're likely to be apalled by their actions all the way through, so why is the film so entertaining? Much of it is due to Scorsese's bravura direction (shot compositions, use of music and general audacity) but more specifically, it's a hilarious ride. This film includes some of the funniest scenes and characters of 2013. DiCaprio is sensational as he completely disappears into the role. It's as if he's been working towards this for his whole career. He has the madness of Howard Hughes and Calvin Candie, the charm of Jay Gatsby, Frank Abagnale and Jack Dawson and the emotional complexity of Frank Wheeler. He's played these parts to perfection and he effortlessly calls on them to bring forth this new one. I would even go as far as to say it's his most naturalistic (a scary thought if you think about it). As his right-hand man, Jonah Hill also gives one of his best performances, bringing a wild personality that pops off the screen. The biggest revelation however is Margot Robbie as Belfort's 2nd wife. Her "Helen of Troy" allure is as intoxicating as the crack cocaine these men smoke and Robbie delivers it with dynamite Brooklyn sass. In addition to a slew of superb bit parts (Matthew McConaughey, Rob Reiner, Cristin Milioti and more), this trio takes you swinging through the extravagant jungle of this 3-hour odyssey. It's an endless streme of top-notch visual humour from drug-induced mishaps to foolhardy escapades.

As much as I enjoyed seeing the cast and director at work though, I have a nagging problem with the narrative. It's well-written with amazing dialogue and scenarios and also flawlessly edited, but it takes a long time to get to the point. There's a subplot involving an FBI investigation which actally forms the crux of the story, but it doesn't quite deliver a satisfying payoff. It seems as if the film got carried away with portraying the excesses of this life without paying enough attention to setting up the endgame.

Yet even though I have issues with the film's seemingly superficial overindulgence, I can't help but respect the achievement. This is maverick filmmaking of the highest order. Every scene oozes the finesse of a highly skilled director and the "go for broke" performances are magnetic. There are many moments in this film that will just knock your socks off. You have to see it to believe it.

As with any Scorsese film, "The Wolf of Wall Street" was perceived as an "Oscar movie" from the time it was announced. Now that it has been seen, it has firmly positioned itself as a bona fide contender. You can expect to see it show up in Best Picture, Best Adapated Screenplay and Best Editing. Best Director also seems likely, with Scorsese seemingly holding on to the 5th slot. The more interesting indicator of the film's strength however, will be the acting categories. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill are definitely worthy of accolades but they're currently lying on the fringes of the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor lineup. They've found favour with the Academy before though, so they are certainly in the running to show up on Thursday morning. I can't wait to see how it all plays out.


  1. Good review Shane. While I will say it's a pretty long movie that may not have a huge shot at winning many Oscars, it's one of my favorites from the past year. Especially with Leo and just how great he is here.

    1. I agree Dan, Leo is brilliant. I did not think that he would be so great, before I watched. But I did not like the movie itself that much. It lacked something I can't explain.

      Good review Shane! I think narrative had some problems too, it concentrated on less interesting things too much.