Writer: Terence Winter (screenplay), Jordan Belfort (autobiography)
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey
Release date: January 23rd, 2014
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Running time: 180 minutes
Best part: Scorsese’s direction.
Worst part: The slightly exasperating run-time.
In reality and fiction, the 21stcentury 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.
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 21stcentury’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.
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 21stcentury efforts are startlingly hit (The Departed, The Aviator) and miss (Gangs of New York, Shutter 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).
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.
Writers: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce (screenplay). F. Scott Fitzgerald (novel)
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton
Release date: May 10th, 2013
Distributors: Warner Bros. Pictures, Roadshow Entertainment
Countries: Australia, USA
Running time: 142 minutes
Best part: The dynamic performances.
Worst part: Luhrmann’s direction.
Australian director Baz Luhrmann is certainly not one for subtlety. Luhrmann, whose credits include Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge, and Australia, is one of the most polarising directors working today. His handling of well-known material has caused controversy in the past, and his latest effort, The Great Gatsby, continues this trend. This cloying and shallow romantic-drama is yet another one of his films that relies entirely on both a glorious aesthetic and marketing power.
This Great Gatsby adaptation has many positive elements. However, there are many directors who could’ve done a much better job with source material of this magnitude. The story, from the mind of legendary author F. Scott Fitzgerald, tells a story about the 1920s in its heyday. Ambitious and optimistic writer/stockbroker Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is enjoying his busy life. Situated in a small cottage (hidden away by the giant mansions surrounding it), Nick is curious about those who live in the surrounding estates, and how they achieved their vast riches. He is then invited to the home of his cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and her rich husband Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). Their pampered existences are then rocked by the mansion across the bay. The mansion’s inhabitants hold elaborate parties that shake the foundations of their upper-class neighbourhood. After being invited to one of these parties, Nick discovers that he has been chosen to help mysterious and handsome aristocrat, and the mansion’s owner, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). However, Nick soon finds out that Gatsby is much more than meets the eye.
Luhrmann has clearly had a significant amount of exposure to the enviable bourgeoisie lifestyle. The flamboyant director is obsessed with his own eye for both film-making and culture. His style has been the most troubling aspect of all of his big-budget productions. I see him as a cynical film-maker too afraid to trust his audience. Audiences always turn out in droves to embrace the latest Luhrmann production, and I have no idea why. His obvious, excessive, and melodramatic style always overshadows the culturally-important stories he has chosen to tell. His latest film has these same problems, but they aren’t as irritating here as they were in the nigh unwatchable Australia. His interpretation of the ‘Great American Novel’ casts a giant shadow over the original text’s seminal themes and poetic narrative. The story’s most valuable elements are there, but they are either underdeveloped or brought up and cast aside immediately. It is difficult to detect Luhrmann’s intent with his adaptation. The text’s condescending yet intelligent view of the American dream is nowhere near as important to Luhrmann as the material things that he can bring into this story. He is obviously in love with some of Hollywood’s most inspired creations. Here, elements of Sabrina and Sunset Boulevard are alluded to. However, this adaptation only proves that Hollywood doesn’t make movies the way it used to.
The visuals, though fun, quickly suck this story dry and turn it into a husk of its former self. Luhrmann seeks to give every shot its own personality, and then put them sequentially next to similarly elaborate shots. The first half hour contains a colourful miasma of Luhrmann’s many zany ideas. Shots transition suddenly from beautifully clear to nostalgically grainy, the camera sweeps around characters and through settings, and contrasting colours and elaborate costumes (created primarily by Luhrmann’s wife Catherine Martin) are bashed together to create many wacky compositions. His in-your-face style is confusing at points. It is difficult to tell whether Luhrmann is using his style to embrace the original novel’s satirical edge, or whether he is simply making everything pretty for no significant reason. Thankfully, his style isn’t as jarring and excessive as it has been in the past (good luck trying to sit through Moulin Rouge!) After Gatsby’s impressive introduction, the pacing and flair is drastically toned down. Despite the film’s refreshing focus on character in the following two thirds, the pacing wavers throughout the film’s exhaustive running time. Luhrmann’s love of anachronisms explains one of the film’s best elements. The Jay-Z-produced soundtrack brings life to this otherwise emotionless movie. The magnificent parties and gentlemen’s club scenes contain a pulse that was desperately needed throughout the rest of the film.
“I knew it was a great mistake for a man like me to fall in love…” (Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), The Great Gatsby).
The movie’s female characters metaphorically represent the film itself; pretty to look at, but as shallow as a decorative fountain! The characters come alive in the heated dialogue sequences. Luhrmann loves his actors’ stunning faces. Wacky facial expressions, plastered across the screen at every turn, add to the film’s already exuberant style. I will say there are some inspired choices peppered throughout. It is rare to see verbal sparring sessions as lengthy and tense as the ones in this otherwise dull character study. The exciting performances save this film from being a costly disaster. DiCaprio commands the screen with poise and charisma. His commitment to the awe-inspiring titular role lends depth to an already fascinating character. Gatsby is part smooth-talking hero, part desperate fool, and part dangerous capitalist. Maguire is surprisingly charming as the ‘third wheel’ in this ever-twisting story. We first meet Carraway in a sanitarium, recovering from both alcoholism and the events of this story (a useless narrative device that was not in the original text). Carraway’s words are scrawled across the screen in some scenes, while his narration discusses his damaging experiences in others (yet more excessive stylistic choices). Edgerton is enthralling as the old-money, moustache-twirling aristocrat whom refuses to let Daisy go. Edgerton creates a slimy and vindictive portrayal without ever becoming a caricature. Other Aussie actors, including Jason Clarke, Isla Fisher, Jack Thompson, and Elizabeth Debicki, are effective in underdeveloped roles.
Luhrmann has a keen eye for pretty things, but still hasn’t learned the basics of convincing storytelling. The eye-popping visuals and pumping soundtrack are able to lift scenes that could easily have been dull. Without the movie’s stellar performances, The Great Gatsby would’ve fallen, and become another one of Luhrmann’s impressive failures, faster than you can say “Old sport”.
Verdict: A visually-stunning yet hollow adaptation of the ‘Great American Novel’.
Stars: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson
Release date: December 25th, 2012
Distributors: The Weinstein Company, Columbia Pictures
Running time: 165 minutes
Best part: Dynamite performances from Waltz and DiCaprio.
Worst part: The excessive use of the ‘N-word’.
One of the most advanced languages on Earth has to be ‘Tarantino English’. Everyone in Hollywood would kill to speak it on the big screen. The dialogue of one of Hollywood’s greatest Auteurs has sky-rocketed him and many actors into the A-list. The director’s work has inspired film buffs and makers alike, while washing the modern film-going audience in a wave of blood and expletives. His latest, Django Unchained, proves that an ageing genre can be brought back to life.
Django (Jamie Foxx) is released from slavery by dentist-turned-bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Charming the inhabitants of America while hunting down criminals for the tempting rewards, Schultz makes a satisfying proposition with Django. If Django identifies Schultz’ next targets, then he will help Django free his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). Django, training promisingly in the art of gun fighting, is ready to meet his vicious enemies as a free man. Broomhilda’s owner turns out to be Plantation owner and Mandingo aficionado Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). On his luxurious ranch, ‘Candieland’, Candie must contend with his intimidating guests.
Django Unchained can be seen as many things. It’s an engaging and visceral mix of blaxploitation flick, revenge tale, black comedy and violent spaghetti western. Tarantino’s love of western tropes has lead to this anachronistic and lively experience (basically a mix of The Searchers, Blazing Saddles and Jackie Brown). The first act defines who these characters are and why we should support them. Breaking Django free in a tight first scene, Schultz and his new partner divide the land while eagerly searching for bloodthirsty wretches. The partnership builds overtime as Django stops being a stoic slave and becomes a fierce yet heartening anti-hero. The beginning moves at a cracking pace. This largely linear story is a much more reserved choice for Tarantino, known to be a director obsessed with subverting any storytelling style. However, when DiCaprio’s character enters the film, it slows down to focus on Tarantino’s fierce dialogue and tension-inducing conversations. This is Tarantino’s first film without his regular editor Sally Menke, and it shows. At 165 minutes, this already gritty and epic revenge fantasy is extended longer than required. This also proves Tarantino to be a better director than screenwriter, in need of Roger Avary(Pulp Fiction co-writer)’s cautioning hand in the script-writing stage.
His directorial flourishes liven up the sprawling landscapes and action set pieces. Tarantino has never been one to back down from excess. Thankfully, Django Unchained is a master-class in excess, but done in a particularly inventive way. Never willing to downplay this already expansive story, he livens it up with anachronisms, spicy dialogue and gore. Each setting adds a distinctive harshness to every scene, while His rush-zoom effect adds a comic-book like affectation to this burgeoning western universe. This version of the american plains is an anarchic mess. Tarantino loves to splatter exaggerated amounts of blood across many shots. The Sam Peckinpah-esque gore becomes harrowing to watch, but it wouldn’t be a Tarantino flick if it didn’t. When Django and Schultz aren’t putting giant bullet holes into baddies, then a black man is getting ripped apart by dogs, mandingos are fighting to the death or someone is brutally tortured. Combining elements from contrasting time periods, Blackly comedic moments balance out the gruelling intensity. Some viewers, however, may find the comedic, and painfully excessive, use of the ‘N-word’ discomforting. Much like in his previous film Inglorious Basterds, Tarantino uses his characters as weapons against racism and prejudice. Times have clearly changed, and he wants this fact emphasised with as many intensifying slurs as possible.
“Kill white people and get paid for it? What’s not to like?” (Django (Jamie Foxx), Django Unchained).
Samuel L. Jackson & Kerry Washington.
This film should have been called ‘One Upon a Time in Tarantino’s Head’. He has done his research as far as capturing a disturbed and rounded depiction of the wild south. Sergio Corbucci and Sergio Leone both get their dues here. What also makes this adventure so compelling are the nasty characters and enigmatic performances on display. Foxx plays the smooth-talking Django with a unique range. Despite delivering greater performances in Collateral and Ray, he still a true acting force here. Sporting slick attire and quick moves, Django quickly becomes a better shade of bad-ass. Waltz steps back into Tarantino’s world after his revelatory performance in Inglorious Basterds. Charming his way out of any situation, his character is a welcome presence on-screen. DiCaprio provides a revelatory turn as the sadistic and cold-hearted Candie. His character’s blackened teeth and trimmed beard illuminate DiCaprio’s steely persona. His character will surely be added to the likes of other classic Tarantino creations. Samuel L. Jackson hasn’t been this entertaining in years. As the true soul of Candieland, his character is a heartless and vivacious individual.
It may seem impossible, but Tarantino has done it again! He has created a controversial yet rambunctious story of the American heartlands. With his trademark flourishes, this enthralling and delectable western becomes a gleefully hilarious bloodbath. As Candie would say: “Adult supervision is required.”