Where greed is good and the satire better

Where greed is good and the satire better

The Wolf of Wall Street
English (A) ****
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler

As an actor best suited to playing the role of the outsider, Leonardo DiCaprio has suddenly emerged as the face of excessive capitalism.

In The Great Gatsby, he played the affluent, dreamy-eyed titular lead, a saccharine portrayal preceded by his act as a wealthy, morally reprehensible slave-owner in Django Unchained. In Martin Scorsese’s three-hour romp of sex, drugs and stocks trading, The Wolf of Wall Street, he follows a similar lead, but with one critical difference. This is a film which charts the gradual moral disintegration of a blue-eyed whiz-kid overcome by the love of money.

Based on the supposed real-life story of convicted fraudster Jordan Belfort, The Wolf of Wall Street is perhaps Mr Scorsese’s finest effort since Goodfellas (1990). In both films, the central character is held together by drugs. Where Goodfellas entered the record books for using the most number of “F” words (at the time of its release), The Wolf is its spiritual inheritor. Where Goodfellas is a sprawling, no-holds barred inquiry into how mob men do business, The Wolf is an intense examination of how greater plunderers, the so-called “Masters of the Universe” on Wall Street, do their jobs.

The movie charts the progress of Belfort from his entry into the profitable world of the stock market, to the loss of his job, and to his resurgence as a broker, running an unregulated penny stocks racket with intellectual mendicants in the backwoods of Long Island. His glorious return to Wall Street, as one of the two to 300 hundred “Masters of the Universe” is effortless. But as history has shown, no film on Wall Street ever has a happy ending.

From the opening frame, we are treated to Belfort’s skewed ideas on morality, money and excess. He is a person of superhuman superficiality, a man who makes Gordon Gecko look like a boy-scout. He is also a man of extreme gifts. Operating on the principle of supply and demand, and using the simple-enough litmus test of getting budding salesmen to sell him an ordinary pen, he forges a potent force of stockbrokers from high-school dropouts and other losers. His first convert is a fat, third-rate furniture salesman named Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), who becomes his right-hand man. Their two-bit investment firm, with the grandiose, waspish name of Stratton Oakmont, rises through the ranks on Wall Street, by scheming, cajoling and outright embezzlement, attracting the attention of the FBI (embodied by Kyle Chandler).

Meanwhile, Belfort undertakes personal upgrades, dumping his loyal wife for a blonde siren — played by one of those generic starlets with a 30-second lifespan so endemic to Hollywood these days. From here, the film accelerates. Belfort, Azoff and Stratton Oakmont reach stratospheric heights, powered by the engine of cocaine, quaaludes, sexual prowess and the mellifluous power of DiCaprio’s charm. The ride is dizzying, funny and so appalling that it is hard not to be amused and marvel that these things actually happened. The film’s overt examination of the nude female form, however, has incurred the wrath of the Indian Censor Board, leaving it vaguely disjointed.

Scorsese’s films often push the borders of satire while exploring the punishment of hubris. The Wolf is no different, and ends with Belfort in New Zealand, futilely attempting to get aspirants to sell him a pen. It’s a sad, sobering lesson, but possibly one that was lost to largely under-23 crowd of yuppie hopefuls, cheering him on in the theatre.

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