Tuesday, August 12, 2014

DVD of the Week: The Wolf of Wall Street

There aren't many directors for whom I'll just watch a movie because it has their name at the front. The Coen Brothers, for one. Spielberg, for good and ill. Soderburgh. Christopher Nolan is getting there. There are some film makers that just remain diverse and interesting, no matter what they turn their hand to, and so a white box with "new movie by X" on it would still get bought or rented. Included in this list is Martin Scorcese, who I seem to have come to late in life, after not really "getting" in my twenties, due to what I can only assume is a fit of extreme dumbness on my part. Since whatever it is that needed to clicked in brain, I've been a devotee, and some of the gaps on viewing his back catalogue still niggle at the back of my mental watchlist. But he has a new movie just hitting rental, so obviously we watched it as fast as we could.

The Wolf of Wall Street is a film that even now, a few days on, I'm having a little of difficulty parsing. It tells the story of the rise and fall of Jordan Belfort - adapted from his own book - a wall street broker and unashamed chancer fuelled by ambition, greed, drugs and sex. Starting out at the height of his powers for a brief introduction, it flashed backwards for about half the film, then once it has caught up, charts his downfall from a surfeit of, well, everything. Like it's subjects life, the film is amazingly self-indulgent, but also dazzling, engaging, and probably a lot more fun than it deserves to be.

The heart of the film is the sort of charismatic performance from Leonardo DiCaprio that we're all starting to take for granted. He presents Belfort as a cross between a self-aware rogue and a revivalist preacher, someone easy to like until you think too hard about what exactly he is. What he is is interesting in itself, although the film doesn't go too much into it; this is the more naked end of Wall Street Stock Trading, the real "buyer beware" end, that makes no bones about its ambition to get punters on the investment merry-go-round until all their money has fallen out. The film manages to make that honestly a disarmingly winning feature, leaving the viewer complicit in what is going on.

Because sat in the background is the fact that these sorts of sales tactics, and corruptions, ruined lives, but the film doesn't care. The film doesn't care because Belfort doesn't care - he cares about his friends and employees, who he sticks with throughout the film, but anonymous suckers at the end of the phone are just numbers, money sacks to be emptied, just as regulation and laws are just things to be bypassed, forgotten and just treat as optional extras. The film doesn't shy away from this, exactly - its a running back current - but much for with the people its depicting, it easily missed in the blaze of drug-fuelled orgies on screen.

I think its a clever way of depicting the culture from the inside. Belfort and the like will live lives detached from the consequences of their actions, and the people sent to hunt them down will seem small, grubby and easily underestimated. Belfort is also a highly unreliable narrator, and the film lampshades this a couple of times in the strongest fashion for anyone not paying too much attention to this. He is self-mythologising, he is making excuses even though he is claiming he's not, and if, as the audience, you're suckered in then you're just one of the suckers, right? Which in end, I suspect, is the point.