Excess is the driving force behind Martin Scorsese's energetic, entertaining but ultimately hollow epic. Leonardo Di Caprio bravely gives it his all as the amoral Wall Street stockbroker Jordan Belfort who made a million dollars a week ''selling garbage to garbage men''. His rapid fire success creates a monster in him that propels his ever increasing hedonistic activities. Immense wealth lands him a luxurious life, but in his eyes it's only luxury if he's partying hard, abusing Quaaludes and spanking hookers.
The problem with The Wolf of Wall Street is that it seems to glorify this way of life, whether it's for our inner curiosities to explore the dark side of human nature or simply just for laughs. Goodfellas explored the same idea but whereas Henry Hill's success at becoming a gangster seemed like a positive conception, it nevertheless shocked audiences with graphic violence that had an internal effect on the main protagonist. Here there are no repercussions that allow us to have any empathy for Jordan Belfort's callous attitude to robbing unfortunate people, his rampant drug taking and abhorrent misogyny. It's worth comparing The Wolf of Wall Street with Goodfellas because they are both structurally and stylistically similar. Scorsese creates a world in both films where excess is king and life moves at a hundred miles per hour. Both Henry Hill and Jordan Belfort experience life at the top and life at the bottom. It's no coincidence that Jordan Belfort talks to the camera from time to time with the same bragging justifications as Henry Hill.
Smart enough audiences will clearly define that Belfort's true to life shenanigans are utterly deplorable. Scorsese however has made the mistake in inviting people to laugh at the on screen obscenities which makes it hard to figure out what point Scorsese is trying to make. The Wolf of Wall Street's moral intentions are questionable and it's neither dark nor funny enough to have the safe gate of 'Black Comedy' stamped on it. Perhaps Scorsese is presenting the idea that Capitalism is modern day's organised crime, which is a fair argument, but he takes a one dimensional look at modern Capitalism rather than the three dimensional exploration of organised crime in Goodfellas. Also disappointing is Thelma Schoonmaker's editing. Anyone who has seen her work through Scorsese's previous works, particularly Goodfellas will know that she is the best in the business, but her work here seems rushed. In many scenes are characters positioned differently which is oddly noticeable. It seems like the film has been rushed to meet the Oscar deadline because if The Wolf of Wall Street was released post-Oscar buzz, it wouldn't have been welcomed in such open arms as it has been.
There are positives to be found among the myriad of flaws fear not. As with most Martin Scorsese movies, The Wolf of Wall Street moves at a fair whip and I doubt anyone will become bored at any point during its mammoth three hour run time. Leonardo Di Caprio's electric and pumped up performance alone grants the film an infectious energy. He eats up the screen and spits it back at you with vulgar intensity. His domestic scenes with his wife Naomi (Margot Robbie) have the same ferocity and tension as the scenes Henry and Karen Hill shared in Goodfellas. Expect Oscar nods for Di Caprio and Jonah Hill who once again shows off his serious acting chops as the wormy business partner to Jordan Belfort. Matthew Mcconaughey is also fully deserving of a best supporting actor nod for bringing the film to life in the opening act. His grandstanding and scene stealing monologue is so well delivered and utterly deplorable that it shocks to think that he is what Jordan Belfort will later become.
Hollywood has taken the rare gamble in allowing Martin Scorsese to make the film he intended to which is commendable. This is a film rarely seen coming out of Hollywood in a generation where superheroes and check listed number of explosions are priority. It's just a shame that the director's latest is somewhat an unexpected disappointment. The Wolf of Wall Street is smartly paced and features a performance of real zest from Leonardo Di Caprio but Martin Scorsese's celebration/condemning of hedonism lacks depth within its uncertain moral core.