If you think about it, a tale of brash upstart stockbrokers trying to make it big in Wall Street fits right into the very American idea of the self-made man, the pioneer breaking new ground for himself, pulling himself by the bootstraps until he gets where he wants to go, stopping at nothing to make things happen. The difference, in the tale as Martin Scorsese tells it in The Wolf of Wall Street, is that the business brash upstart stockbroker Jordan Belfort (Leonardo di Caprio) is in is making money through shady financial transactions he is the only one profiteering from.

     There's one born every day, and Belfort will stop at nothing to make money off them, as indeed he did during the 1990s before eventually being caught by the FBI. There's something in his story, greatly embellished in the memoir that is the basis for Mr. Scorsese's movie, that suggests he is making up for lost time, disproving those who said he'd never get there, sticking it to The Man even while hobnobbing with him - the tale of a classically insecure yet wildly ambitious man, told at breathtaking speed and in gargantuan excess as Belfort and his growing cast of cronies erect a grotesque monument to greed, sex and wealth.

     The Wolf of Wall Street's relentless parade of bling is as lurid and gaudy as it is nauseous and overegged; in its Grand-Guignolesque rise and fall of a salesman who pushed too hard we see echoes of earlier films by Mr. Scorsese, yet he can no longer shoot Belfort like he shot his other made men. Times have changed, and these folk have nothing that'll even resemble a moral code - not family, not brotherhood, not even morality, it's every man for himself. As such, he underlines the desperation and darkness at the centre of this orgy of greed, his camera waltzing around the ostentatious, flashy signs of obscene wealth with as much kinetic relish as moral disapproval.

     Is Mr. Scorsese trying to have his cake and eat it too, or merely exploring satire in a particularly savage, visceral way? Other reviewers have veered wildly in either direction, but I prefer to think that the director is moving back into the dysfunctional fray of American mores after the whimsical interlude of Hugo, aware of and attuned to the tone Terence Winter's script needs to work as a film but also attempting to recapture some of his earlier energy within the structure of an excessive morality play. Key to this moral angle is the presence of Mr. Di Caprio, Mr. Scorsese's current regular accomplice (and a co-producer of the film as well), using to good effect his golden-boy looks to play the inside-out flip-side of his canny, charming conman in Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can. Both characters are grown-up kids looking for acceptance within the bigger world, looking for a place to fit in but in almost opposite ways; where Joe Abagnole blended in until he wasn't any longer himself, Jordan Belfort wants to stand out and make himself known for who he is.

     The Wolf of Wall Street physically exhausts the viewer to the point he just wants this endless party to finally come to an end - and its excessive three-hour length may be part of the point Mr. Scorsese wanted to make, as the film does shape up to be a comment on the current economic crises and the villain role that bankers, financial consultants and stockbrokers have had in it. But nevertheless it's clear that, for all his visual virtuosity, the director isn't breaking any new ground here, merely recycling his bravura moments in a new setting while essaying satire with an appropriately heavy hand. This film was made for these times, and may yet survive them.

Cast: Leonardo di Caprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin
Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenwriter: Terence Winter, from the memoir by Jordan Belfort, The Wolf of Wall Street
Cinematography: Rodrigo Prieto (colour, widescreen)
Designer: Bob Shaw
Costumes: Sandy Powell
Editor: Thelma Schoonmaker
Producers: Mr. Scorsese, Mr. Di Caprio, Riza Aziz, Joey McFarland, Emma Tillinger Kiskoff  (Red Granite Pictures, Appian Way Productions, Sikelia Productions, EMJAG Productions)
USA, 2013, 179 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Alvaláxia 1, Lisbon, January 3rd 2014

Nominated for five 2013 Academy Awards (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actor - Leonardo di Caprio; Best Supporting Actor - Jonah Hill; Best Adapted Screenplay)


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