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The Wolf of Wall Street

A chronicle of depravity that at once amuses and nauseates.
By Tom Glasson
January 20, 2014
By Tom Glasson
January 20, 2014

"My name is Jordan Belfort" explains Leonardo DiCaprio in the opening to Martin Scorsese's new film, The Wolf of Wall Street. "The year I turned 26, I made $49 million, which really pissed me off because it was three shy of a million a week." If you're a banker, that probably frames this film as something of a tragedy for you. For everyone else, it sets the tone for a semi-true story about a materialistic mercenary whose insatiable appetite for money and power saw him wreak havoc on both the stock market and his own family for two decades.

Taking its name and story from Belfort's bestselling (and unsurprisingly self-aggrandising) biography, The Wolf of Wall Street largely confirms all the things you presumed you hated about unscrupulous investment bankers and even establishes a few new ones for you to despise. It is black comedy at its very darkest; a chronicle of depravity that at once amuses and nauseates.

In his now award-winning turn as the eponymous 'wolf', DiCaprio holds nothing back — screaming, beaming and drooling his way through every scene with gleeful, passionate intensity. His best lines are often reserved for internal monologue, navigating by narration all the intricacies of drug consumption, prostitute procurement and, of course, stock market manipulation.

Alongside him is Jonah Hill in a fantastically weird performance as Belfort's right-hand man Donnie Azoff. Grinning through hypnotically white teeth, Azoff is both Belfort's enabler and guardian — simultaneously safeguarding their friendship whilst steering it irreversibly down the road to inevitable ruin.

Despite its cracking pace, The Wolf of Wall Street runs at just one minute short of three hours and definitely feels as long as it is. The cycle of sex, drugs and opulence admittedly entertains at first but soon becomes as unvarying and unremarkable as, presumably, it was in real life.

That vapidity is then compounded by the lack of growth experienced by just about every character in the film. Belfort's transformation from wide-eyed newcomer to unapologetic sybaritic lasts precisely one (albeit probably the best) scene right at the start of the film, after which his character arc sits firmly on the 180. Lessons aren't learned, egos aren't checked and virtue never rears its head as the Wolf and his pack cruise, jet and blindly stumble from one orgiastic spectacle to the next.

In that respect, The Wolf of Wall Street ultimately feels shallower and less arresting than, say, Oliver Stone's Wall Street or even Brian De Palma's Bonfire of the Vanities. All three unreservedly showcase the extraordinary grandiosity, greed and ruthlessness of men like Belfort, yet Wolf's predecessors prove that less is more when examining those for whom 'more' is the singular ambition.

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