Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street - Marty's Still Got It!

"My name is Jordan Belfort. The year I turned 26, I made 49 million dollars, which really pissed me off because it was three shy of a million a week."

How is Martin Scorsese able to direct one brilliant movie after another even when he’s at the end of his career? This was the question that was plaguing my mind as I walked out of the theater. His energy is awe inspiring, and yet at the same time insane. You could feel the zest for film making, the itch to tell a story, the childlike enthusiasm that is present till date in Marty’s eyes sprinkled all over the screen. To make a movie out of a character who had embezzled ordinary people out of millions in stocks and shares—financial terms that may go way over the head of the average moviegoer, like yours truly—and to keep the audience involved at the same time is no mean achievement. But in Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorsese does that, and how!

Scorsese portrays the lead character, Jordan Belfort, as no less than a rock god. The man is a modern day snake-oil salesman, he makes a living by cheating honest and hardworking people, he is a drug addict, a wife abuser, a womanizer, and egotistical, yet, Scorsese and a brilliant Leonardo Dicaprio make us root for the bad guy. We cheer for Jordan where he dupes an unassuming, gullible, customer into buying the shares of an obscure company over a cold call, a victory that he celebrates by miming a vulgar sexual act on the other end of the line, we are left wide eyed out of amazement, and at times even in splits when he berates an honest FBI agent by rebuking his normal life as he asks him to go back to his “ugly wife”, while he shows off his ill-gotten wealth. Jordan Belfort is a man full of himself, a man intoxicated on his own success, and we are captivated by his life hook, line and sinker. 

What does that say about us as an audience? That we’d root for the bad guy as long as they are flamboyant, good-looking, incessantly cussing and bedding a bevy of beauties, because we are just the average person who could never get to live the large life of those men we see on screen?

Scorsese sells us the image of a man who has it all, a yacht, a fast car, hookers, a bungalow, all of it gotten by money fraud. He may seem like a man who would end up being a victim of his own hubris, but eventually only gets off easy. Scorsese may seem like he’s playing the devil’s advocate by glorifying the criminal exploits of Belfort, and he has been slammed by some critics for this, but this is how Belfort’s story could be told. And it is told effectively, it keeps you engrossed, it keeps you wanting for more, and not for a second does the three-hour runtime seem overbearing.

Much praise should be handed over to Terence Winter whose screenplay has the raw power and the intensity to keep you absorbed for three-hours. The movie is bereft of gun fights, and violence, but, what it does possess in large doses is the outrageous sex scenes (despite the cuts), the profane language (censoring which would only end up making the movie a silent film), and a lot of humor. Scorsese has assembled an ensemble cast where every actor is seen having a time of their lives, be it Matthew McConaughey in a cameo as the eccentric Mark Hanna who guides a greenhorn Jordan Belfort into the world of stock markets, or Jonah Hill as Donnie Azoff , the drug-crazy, pill-popping right-hand man of Jordan Belfort who is border-line insane. The star of the show, however, without a doubt is Leonardo Dicaprio who throws in a career best performance as Jordan Belfort, if you were blown away by his negative role as Calvin Candie in Django, you better fasten your seatbelts in the Wolf of Wall Street, because Leo’s fantastic (which is quite an understatement) performance would make it tough for you to not jump out of your seats and hoot for him.

Oversexed, power hungry, abrasive, arrogant, misogynistic, the real Jordan Belfort may have many more detestable qualities that would not have garnered him much fans. Yet, Dicaprio lets loose the crazy hidden inside of him, we can see him enjoying the character, be it while dishing it out to people who are lesser than him in all his arrogance, or while trying to win over the affections of his wife with his boyish charm, Dicaprio is not acting like Jordan Belfort, he is Jordan Belfort.

You could draw many a parallels between The Wolf of Wall Street and Scorsese’s own gangster classic Goodfellas, the in-your-face narrative style that breaks the fourth wall which gets you sucked into the world of the protagonist from the get-go, the characters of Henry Hill and Jordan Belfort—confident, ambitious and fueled by greed—they are men who tend to reach for more than they could grasp, the usage of music in the scenes that only gets you involved even more, and the camaraderie between the protagonist and his band of merry men. The Wolf of Wall Street is the Goodfellas for this generation, you cannot have enough of it with just a one-time watch, you will watch it time and time again, you will recommend it to your friends, you will watch it with them just to see them have a great time, and you will talk about the movie till the cows come home.

After his recent movies over the years, I had assumed that Scorsese had run out of steam to make a classic like Goodfellas again, how wrong was I! The old devil still has it in him. In his latest outing the great man has collaborated with a legendary actor-in-the-making who doesn’t howl like a wolf, but roars like a lion!


Prashanth Rajan said...

Awesome review to a kick ass movie ! Leo IMO was always one of the unluckiest actors to have never won an oscar. Hoping he gets an oscar with this one.

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