The Wolf of Wall Street Review – Cons, Cars, & Cocaine


Director: Martin Scorsese

Writer: Terence Winter (screenplay), Jordan Belfort (autobiography)

Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey


Release date: January 23rd, 2014

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 180 minutes


 

5/5     

Best part: Scorsese’s direction.

Worst part: The slightly exasperating run-time.

In reality and fiction, the 21st century has delivered several influential and controversial moments, personalities, and conundrums. So far, this century has crafted polarised communities, disgraced political figures, and bizarre celebrities. Despite the past 13 years’ pros and cons, what separates this century from previous ones? It’s simple – the world has significantly expanded. Before I continue divulging into this pressing debate, I’ll link my point back to this century’s cinematic efforts. I’ll do so because, in this case, it matters. Anti-hero characters deliver brutally vile personas and enviable traits.

Leonardo DiCaprio.

Leonardo DiCaprio.

Movies like The Wolf of Wall Street  reach out and grasp optimistic and enthusiastic filmgoers. Throwing punches, they remind us that heroes and villains control reality. In both realms, people continually fend for themselves. In The Wolf of Wall Street, the characters learn life’s greatest secrets and keep them to themselves. Though most anti-hero stories are fantastical and disarming, we turn to them for inspiration, escapism, and suspense. Blurring the line between reality and fantasy, the movie relishes in absurdities and overarching messages. Tying into modern media’s obsession with controversy and attentiveness, this docudrama examines the 21st century’s unique perspectives and promising artistic trends. Reflecting cultural, economic, and social desires, the movie succinctly and engagingly analyses the American Dream’s true power and potential. Unbelievably, The Wolf of Wall Street is based on a true story. The movie chronicles stockbroker-turned-motivational-speaker Jordan Belfort’s rise to power and fall from prominence. Based on Belfort’s best-selling memoir, the movie examines his life story’s unconscionable twists and turns. The movie begins by listing this businessman’s enviable possessions. Comparing elaborate mansions to gorgeous wives and illicit drugs, Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is living proof that money does buy happiness. Living the dream, Belfort believes his explicit lifestyle will never end.

Jonah Hill.

Jonah Hill.

The movie jumps back several years, and Belfort is a fresh-faced go-getter. Arriving in New York City via bus, the humble and optimistic youngster strives for stock-market success. On his first day, he becomes infinitely entranced by Wall Street’s immense chaos. Becoming head stockbroker Mark Hanna(Matthew McConaughey)’s protege, Belfort re-structures his pristine image. After a stock-market crash, he applies for a Long Island boiler room dealing specifically in penny stocks. Wowing his co-workers, Belfort becomes an ambitious and zany hotshot. Befriending Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), Belfort ambitiously builds penny stock company Stratton Oakmont, Inc. Over time, Belfort, like DiCaprio himself, develops a debaucherous and enviable lifestyle. Despite the company’s blissful ascension in the corporate world, its party-hungry and grotesque stockbrokers threaten to destroy Belfort’s emphatic image. Unquestionably, DiCaprio’s infatuation with the material is gleefully ironic and playful. With DiCaprio being a relentless womaniser and acting titan, Wolf of Wall Street‘s Meta shades ring alarmingly true. DiCaprio’s involvement, defined by a bidding war over the rights, injects tangibility and gravitas into the uncompromising narrative. Eventually, Belfort, despite being married, befriends and seduces Naomi Lapaglia (Margot Robbie). Despite the extravagant lifestyle and conquering business, Belfort’s overwhelming existence hits several obstacles. Fortunately, thanks to a raucous opening scene, this perplexing docudrama immediately kicks into gear. We, as hyper-aware filmgoers, witness wealthy actors playing destructive and stupefying characters. This relentless black comedy elevates 2013’s anti-hero trend (American Hustle, Spring Breakers, Pain & Gain). Thanks to its blind-siding tendencies and attention to detail, The Wolf of Wall Street delivers intriguing surprises, laugh-out-loud lines, and baffling set-pieces. 

Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, & John Bernthal.

Obviously, director Martin Scorsese is responsible for the movie’s significant quality. Scorsese is, unquestionably, modern Hollywood’s greatest director. As an A-list celebrity and film aficionado, Scorsese is a commendable individual. Beyond these traits, his multi-layered and memorable filmography is worth flicking through. Scorsese’s works – whether they’re stone cold classics (Raging Bull, Taxi Driver), moody dramas (Bringing out the Dead), thrillers (Cape Fear), or charming adventure flicks (Hugo) – continually bolster cinema’s reputation. Here, Scorsese returns to his effervescent best. Scorsese, striving for laughs and exhilarating moments, returns to the crime-drama and black comedy genres. Reminiscent of Goodfellas, Mean Streets, and Casino, The Wolf of Wall Street celebrates ludicrous behaviour, temptation, brotherhood, and honour. Despite his characters’ disgusting behaviour, Scorsese insistently examines the anti-hero mindset. Separating traditional and modern anti-hero tropes, the movie never displays the victim’s perspective. Despite Scorsese’s impressive aura, his 21st century efforts are startlingly hit (The DepartedThe Aviator) and miss (Gangs of New YorkShutter Island). Ably balancing appropriateness and accuracy, this exhilarating dramedy fuses visual stimulus, relevance, and edge. Receiving criticism for The Wolf of Wall Street‘s moral and ethical dexterity, Scorsese’s attention to detail, nuanced style, and confronting perspectives outweigh the movie’s ethical conundrums. Scorsese deliberates on the economic downturn, US government, and capitalism. Here, consequences are obliterated by Belfort’s greed, mean-spiritedness, and manipulative persona. Ably handling Belfort’s memoir, The Wolf of Wall Street unflinchingly depicts a horrifying, relentless, and thought-provoking story. The movie’s non-linear structure provides intensifying titbits and intricacies. Driven by temptation, greed, and malice, Stratton Oakmont is history’s most exciting, debilitating, and deplorable workplace. 

“The year I turned 26, as the head of my own brokerage firm, I made $49 million, which really pissed me off because it was three shy of a million a week.” (Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), The Wolf of Wall Street).

Matthew McConaughey.

Matthew McConaughey.

Finding loopholes and creating pump-and-dump scams, Belfort and co. endlessly revel in the rewards. With money pouring in, shirtless marching bands and dirty hookers become essential to the office space on an average Tuesday. Excavating Belfort’s vicious lifestyle, Terence Winter(Boardwalk Empire co-creator)’s eclectic screenplay provides laughs, shocking moments, and heart-breaking turns. Here, Winter updates the rise-and-fall narrative for a new generation. Fortunately, the story balances exhilarating highs and crushing lows despite Belfort’s exasperating existence. Soon enough, The FBI becomes essential to this baffling story. Separating fact from fiction, the FBI slaps the movie’s blissfully ecstatic audience. Scorsese’s New York is more concentrated than Belfort’s disarming concoctions – depicting the Big Apple as a gleefully unapologetic hellhole. Breaking ethical and performative boundaries, the cast also elevates itself above the material. DiCaprio delivers a career defining performance as this dangerous and charming lead character. Stretching his comedic muscles, DiCaprio’s dexterous charisma and unique physical structure provide several memorable moments. As the all-encompassing leader hooked on Quaaludes, his thundering speeches and one-liners ring throughout the cineplex. Hill, with oily skin, phosphorescent teeth, and sickening enthusiasm, excels as Belfort’s psychopathic sidekick. With an insatiable appetite for cocaine, hookers, and goldfish, Azoff becomes a disastrous and darkly comic enabler. McConaughey exceeds expectations in his all-too-brief role. Robbie is revelatory and frightening as Beflort’s audacious second wife. In addition, Jean Dujardin, Ethan Suplee, Joanna Lumley, Jon Bernthal, P.J. Byrne, and Cristin Milioti deliver ingenious highlights in small roles. Surprisingly, directors Rob Reiner, Spike Jonze, and Jon Favreau also elevate valuable sequences. 

The Wolf of Wall Street, beyond the gut-wrenching imagery and commendable nuances, proves that big-shot directors, writers, and actors can obsess over and produce overwhelming excess. With Belfort’s story wrought with ambivalent characters, temptations, and hefty consequences, Scorsese, Winter, and DiCaprio throw brutal punches and learn from one another. Despite the egregious 3-hour run-time, this visceral farce becomes Scorsese’s best effort since The Departed. He is, undoubtedly, the greatest veteran director working today.

Verdict: An absurd, kinetic, and entertaining docudrama. 

American Hustle Review – ABSCAM Anarchy


Director: David O. Russell 

Writers: Eric Singer, David O. Russell 

Stars: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner


Release date: December 13th, 2013

Distributors: Columbia Pictures, Entertainment Film Distributors, Roadshow Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 138 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: The entertaining performances. 

Worst part: The alienating plot turns.

In one of American Hustle‘s more pivotal scenes, Christian Bale’s Character Irving Rosenfeld asks Bradley Cooper’s character Richie DiMaso the movie’s most important question: “Who’s the master? The Painter? Or the forger?”. Despite being the trailer’s most valuable moment, the query still efficiently sums up this crime-drama’s raw edginess. American Hustle, safely landing into Academy-Award-contention territory, is one of 2013’s most puzzling yet entertaining movies. Its top-flight cast, enigmatic plot, and dizzying set pieces deliver multiple rewards.

Christian Bale & Bradley Cooper.

Despite presenting itself as a “For Your Consideration…” Oscar trap, American Hustle is an honest and adept crime-drama. Today, we rarely become witness to such ground-breaking yet kinetic movies. Despite facing stiff competition in this year’s Oscar race, American Hustle wouldn’t care if it won, lost, or drew. Acclaimed director David O. Russell (The FighterSilver Linings Playbook) is obviously his own man. Given his fiery on-set temper and inspiring talent, O. Russell achieves the near impossible – delivering a stylish, convoluted, and enlightening crime drama free from pretentiousness and overblown moments. Despite my glowing recommendation of American Hustle, I understand the movie’s already-discomforting-yet-minor backlash. It’s certainly not for everyone. At least, I can try to win people over by describing the movie’s terrific yet dicey plot. Rosenfeld (Bale) is a despicable businessman running several companies within New Jersey. With his dry-cleaning and glass-installation businesses in tip-top condition, he becomes a slimy yet clever small-town hero. However, Rosenfeld’s world is rocked by seductive beauty Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). With Prosser becoming Rosenfeld’s mistress/business partner, their greatest plans kick into gear. Embezzling large funds from gullible investors, the terrible twosome expand their vast riches. Thanks to Prosser’s alter ego ‘Lady Edith Greensly’, their schemes and romance blossom into something dreadfully beautiful (or beautifully dreadful, it’s difficult to tell). However, Rosenfeld is bewitched by his bi-polar wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) and adrenaline-and-cocaine-fuelled FBI agent DiMaso (Cooper). Forced into the FBI’s clutches, Rosenfeld, Prosser, and DiMaso forcefully work together to take down corrupt yet well-meaning Camden Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner).

Amy Adams.

Amy Adams.

From there, allegiances, plans, and ideologies are warped, tortured, and eviscerated. It may seem diabolical, but the dramatic beats liven up this talky crime-drama. Depicting the late-70s’ ABSCAM scandal, American Hustle delves into the true story’s intricate webbing and most enigmatic elements. With its opening title card saying: “Some of this actually happened”, the movie pokes fun at Hollywood’s stranglehold over inspirational yet unbelievable true stories. After biting into ABSCAM’s saucy yet dangerous secrets, the movie sporadically delves into its own fantastical and larger-than-life adventure. I’ll admit, the convoluted plot-strands and alienating exposition become this cognitive structure’s most problematic elements. However, these inane moments hurriedly brush past the audience. Its most memorable moments are worth the admission cost. Here, ABSCAM’s most confusing aspects are insignificant titbits stuck in an increasingly formidable conflict. Before and after the scandal is brought up then brushed aside, the characters take control of the movie’s electrifying and alarming narrative. Within the first ten minutes, American Hustle takes us on a discomforting, sexually appealing, and comedic journey. Thanks to Rosenfeld and Prosser’s shared narration, these characters introduce and describe themselves. O. Russell, continually choosing controversy over convention, makes several brave choices within the first act. Beyond the schizophrenic narration, the narrative jumps from one influence to another. Despite the movie’s overt self-indulgence, O. Russell displays a glowing affection for such influential crime-drama directors as Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Sidney Lumet. The tonal shifts, ever-changing perspectives, and debilitating plot-turns are derived from Goodfellas and Casino. In fact, like those pulsating movies, American Hustle graciously explores the criminal mind’s most fascinating intricacies.

Jeremy Renner.

Despite the engaging narrative, the plot occasionally gets away from O. Russell and co-writer Eric Singer. Highlighting the true story’s most baffling parts, the movie locks onto its comical and distasteful characters. Despite this, the movie’s sickening comedic touches quickly launch into overdrive. With the wild characters embracing this pressing situation’s absurdity, the biting and ironic humour comes thick and fast. Stuck between rocks and hard places, these dim-witted heroes and villains bumble, wine, and cuss through every dangerous conflict. With lives and reputations at risk, insults fly across each swanky setting. In particular, Rosalyn’s nasty insults and abrasive attitude hit with gut-punch-like effect. Credit, obviously, belongs to O. Russell for the movie’s pitch-black humour and cynical outlook. Despite the punchy tone and zippy pacing, O. Russell’s work hurriedly descends into darkness and chaos. With his filmography covering the gulf war, mental illness, and fallen sporting heroes, his misanthropic perspective casts a detailed shadow over each unique project. American Hustle, his most violent and zany effort yet, illuminates similarities between 70s, post-Vietnam USA and post-economic-crisis Earth. O. Russell, giving fraudulent miscreants second chances whist looking down upon important government agencies, develops several truthful yet misguided opinions. Like Catch Me if You Can and The InformantAmerican Hustle‘s criminal/lawman conflict supports the anti-hero and flips-off the villainous yet untouchable government fat-cats. At least, O. Russell’s work says what we are all thinking. Beyond that, O. Russell bravely pokes fun at the American Dream. Deliberating on race, gender, and class, the movie makes middle class, suburban living seem like a torturous adventure. Setting household appliances, inventive schemes, and aspirations alight, American Hustle is not for the faint-hearted or ignorant.

“Did you ever have to find a way to survive and you knew your choices were bad, *but* you had to survive?” (Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), American Hustle).

Jennifer Lawrence.

Jennifer Lawrence.

Thankfully, for less-opinionated viewers, the visuals develop a kinetic and entertaining sensory experience. Sporting elaborate costumes, hair-dos, and personalities, each character sustains exterior and interior quirks. With these characters’ schemes as outlandish as their skin-flashing outfits, the costume design lends American Hustle a pulsating and tangible sheen. In addition, each character – whether they be rich, poor, innocent or slimy – balances stupefying hair-dos atop their attractive facades. DiMaso’s perm, Rosalyn’s beehive, and Polito’s road-kill-like hairstyle are enlightening distractions. Opening with Rosenfeld pasting a bizarre toupee atop his bulbous scalp, American Hustle‘s characters are defined by styles and substance. The mis-en-scene, plastering ugly colours, swanky interior designs, and elaborate patterns across every frame, lends verisimilitude to this otherwise sketchy and kooky narrative. O. Russell, infatuated by overt 70s icons, pumps up the catchy soundtrack at opportune moments. Wings, Steely Dan, The Bee Gees, and Elton John elevate certain tension-inducing sequences. However, credit belongs to the A-list actors draped across every sizzling frame. Their determination and courageousness, tested by O. Russell’s punishing direction, pushes them through each discomforting scene. Like O. Russell’s previous efforts, the shouting matches develop each puzzle piece and flawed character. Swiftly increasing each interior setting’s temperature, the pithy dialogue and loud voices reveal each character’s ugliest qualities. Bale, carrying a belly and comb-over, transforms into a seedy, depraved, and quick-witted figure. Cooper steals his scenes as the incessant and manic agent. Adams, falling boob-first into every scene, is revelatory as the slinky yet tough mistress. Renner and Lawrence provide big laughs and immaculate performances. Meanwhile, Robert De Niro, Louis CK, Alessandro Nivola, Jack Huston, and Michael Pena contribute commendably.

With his energetic direction, elegant screenplay, and Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook alumni, O. Russell has pulled off a stunning hat-trick. Despite minor quarrels, American Hustle peels back several purposeful layers over its 2+ hour run-time. Unlike American Gangster, American Psycho, and American Pie, this crime-drama discovers that particular word’s immense ironic twang.

Verdict: A funny, scintillating, and engaging crime-drama.