Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #166
Number of Views: One
Release Date: 25 December 2013
Country of Origin: United States
Box-Office: $116,345,073 (USA)
Running Time: 180 minutes
Director: Martin Scorcese
Producers: Riza Aziz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Joey McFarland, Martin Scorcese, Emma Tillinger Koskoff
Screenplay: Terence Winter
Based on a novel by Jordan Belfort
Cinematography: Rodrigo Prieto
Editing: Thelma Schoonmaker
Studios: Paramount Pictures, Red Granite Pictures, Appian Way, Sikelia Productions, EMJAG Productions
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin, Joanna Lumley, Cristin Milioti, Christine Ebersole, Shea Whigham, Katarina Cas, P.J. Byrne, Kenneth Choi, Brian Sacca, Henry Zebrowski, Ethan Suplee, Barry Rothbart, Jake Hoffman, Jon Spinogatti
Suggested Audio Candy
Howlin’ Wolf “Smoke Stack Lightning”
Martin Scorsese can do little wrong. With a career spanning over fifty years and over as many films already under his belt, he is Hollywood’s made man. His résumé is littered with high points and his films frequently make all-time best lists, Goodfellas being one which is held in particularly lofty regard and Casino is ordinarily mentioned in the following sentence. Yet, for all the bells and whistles, my personal darling of his is a little-known jet-black comedy from 1985 called After Hours. On paper little more than a series of unfortunate events, this ended up so much more and demonstrated Scorsese’s effortless knack for comedy, albeit blacker than a Mormon’s wardrobe.
Interestingly, The Wolf of Wall Street marks something of a departure for Marty. Make no error, this is a Scorsese flick through and through and represents him operating from well within his comfort zone. However, this is undoubtedly his most comical work since After Hours and makes no bones about it either. Much of the weight of such an undertaking is shouldered by buddy Leonardo DiCaprio, in his fifth time working with the director. This could be seen as the handsome star’s thorniest challenge as comedy has never been his natural calling but, if that’s the case, then he’s a better actor than I even realized as it is an utterly seamless transition for him.
He plays Jordan Belfort, who wrote the original novel that Terence Winter adapted for the screen. We chart his rise from pond scum to magnate just as we did Henry Hill all those years ago and, within seconds of the first scene, he has us right by the short and curlies. Starting out wet, he is taken on as a stockbroker within the fortress of Wall Street before being unceremoniously ‘spat out’ amidst the infamous Black Monday crash of 1987. Rather than wallowing in self-pity, he adopts the tools of practice betrothed him by boss Mark (Matthew McConaughey in a succinct and typically spunky turn) and dusts himself straight the fuck off.
He fashions an unlikely team to assist him in realizing these visions of grandeur and these include hedonistic dimlow Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), a man with a rack of whites like a row of pearl toilet seats. Hill has proven himself time and again as a comedic actor and is best known for his larger than life characterizations but there is no caricature here. Moreover, it never feels forced between the two men and their on-screen chemistry is nigh on off-the-chart. I would presume that DiCaprio and Hill will be under Marty’s wing together a lot in years to come and he could well be groomed into mini-Pesci by the time those fruits are bared. Here, they’re simply nitroglycerin.
Morality is taken off the table from the offset and our wolf never allows himself to become bogged down by such a wasteful pursuit. This proves to be a shrewd decision as films of this nature tend to peak and trough with their protagonist’s fortunes. Not here, if his marriage dissipates then it’s ta-da and on to the next, no time for pondering or unnecessary reflection. When you’re talking about an artiste of the quality of Leonardo DiCaprio his eyes supply all the melancholy any doom-mongers require without stating out the obvious. Marty wants us to have fun, Leo and Jonah are in on the joke and, damn tooting, fun is what we shall be having.
What better way than to unleash the strippers, farmyard animals and vertically challenged human bowling balls. That’s right, the first act of The Wolf of Wall Street shares parallels with… Bachelor Party?!! If I had witnessed a mule snorting lines of coke from a hooker’s ass crack then it probably would have been in context at this point. I may have been hallucinating on the toxins pouring from Jordan and Donnie’s pores but I could have sworn I saw Nick ‘The Dick’ strutting about with a serving tray amongst all the chaos. I shit you never, those tits… the ones from Airplane that jiggle around during the blind hysteria…I swear blind I saw those too. Nurse!
Full frontal nudity is commonplace throughout the duration and Scorsese may well push the envelope farther than any of his Hollywood counterparts on this count. In one in a laundry list of standout instances, Donnie pulls a prosthetic member from within his pleated slacks and commences waving it around like an Independence Day flag. The look of sheer discombobulation on the party dwellers is entirely authentic as only Hill, his co-star and Marty were in on the joke. This sums it up in a nutshell, three hours is some slog if you’re sitting at home watching a long drawn-out dramatic piece but time well spent when the party is in full swing as it is here unerringly.
The buddies stoop to hilarious new lows and blunder like a pair of pros. Narcotics are a mainstay and there are enough white lines and popped pills to “sedate Manhattan, Long Island, and Queens for a month”. One scene, featuring a potent brand of expired Lemmon 714 which they neck like Smarties, provides guffaws culminating in Popeye. You heard me… ug ug ug! No doubt the cynics will be harping on about the glorification of drugs but, just like Bud Fox, Jordan has to learn some harsh lessons, a principal one being that drugs are bad m’kay’. It just doesn’t waste good screen-time telling you how to suck eggs.
Another criticism I would expect from the partisans is that Jordan Belfort is a loathsome protagonist and this is pure goose phlegm. Sure, he makes some questionable decisions and never concerns himself with the trail of destruction behind him but, DiCaprio is so utterly charismatic throughout, that you adore him warts et all. This may very well be his best performance to date and is certainly his most off-the-chain. This attests to his working relationship with Marty as well as his connection to Terence Winter’s razor-sharp screenplay which provides him with some monologue prime-rib to sink his incisors into. He feeds on these like the proverbial hungry wolf.
Women are traditionally no walkovers in Scorsese’s films and duchess Naomi is a real ferret in Jordan’s trouser leg. Margot Robbie gives a most voracious account of herself, baring all plus trimmings. In addition there are succulent roles for the legendary Rob Reiner and Kyle Chandler, who excels as the federal tree overhanging Jordan’s window. The cast is uniformly excellent as we have come to expect in the hands of one of the most distinguished auteurs on the planet. Lush photography and Thelma Schoonmaker’s seamless editing are no less than expected and the whole package dazzles with more effervescence than Donnie’s oral tombstones.
This leaves us with the million dollar question. Is it Scorsese’s next Goodfellas? No would be my instant retort and would be followed by a large “pfft“ at the very notion that the two could be compared. The Wolf of Wall Street couldn’t be further departed from his magnum opus. It does share one distinct similarity however. Remember the scene where Henry gun-cuffs an obnoxious jock for daring to abuse his lady-love? Remember how involuntarily hot that made her feel? Jordan Belfort doesn’t need resort to such ape-like behavior to make the panties moist but he’s every bit the bad boy and just as mesmerizing.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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