The Bacchanal Stops Here (in the Raging Bull Market)
"May you live in interesting times" says the old Chinese proverb. With the Chinese holding a good chunk of the U.S. debt and the financial stakes being held by the likes of the degenerates of The Wolf of Wall Street, these are interesting times, indeed, as Martin Scorsese and his frequent collaborator Leonardo DiCaprio present a contemporary tale of Roman excess, only slightly more believable than the horrors they collaborated on with Shutter Island by hoodlums only slightly more endearing than the gangsters of Goodfellas.
That it is also Sorsese's most roaringly entertaining film in awhile says something else.
One must be prepared to be shocked going in—the film starts with a dwarf-tossing contest as a way of letting off steam on "casual Friday" and that's just the beginning—within ten minutes we'll be treated to a rather delicately composed shot of DiCaprio's Jordan Belfort, the late 20th Century descendant of Horatio Alger and Sammy Glick, snorting cocaine from a highly unusual receptacle, and still thoroughly plowed out of his mind that he crashes his personal helicopter onto his property. And over the next three hours—don't worry, the movie zips by, jumping from extreme to extreme every ten minutes like battles in a space epic—we follow a familiar path in the films of Scorsese, of the rise, fall and subsequent grovelling of its protagonist, forced to a penance of knowing how good he had it and never being able to get there again—of having "the secret" and not being able to use it. There has been a critical backlash that perhaps Scorsese and his screenwriter Terence Winter haven't been quite so judgmental in their portrayal of the events of the film, but that's because they've chosen for their principal point of view that of Belfort, himself, who, while breaking every rule in the book to get whatever he wants, violates the fourth wall, continually, as well, addressing the audience and explaining enthusiastically "How He Did It." It's the perverse counter-point to the kind of seminars on selling that Belfort conducts now to make money...and avoid the constant glare of the authorities who took him down.
|DiCaprio's Belfort Explains it All to You
He's reduced to making cold-calls on penny-stocks for a boiler room in a strip mall, where Belfort soon establishes himself as a top-tier hustler there, adapting an attitude of hyper-optimism for gullible first-time investors, finding as he does so that he is actually making more money as he gets higher commissions pushing worthless stocks. To push his credibility with buyers further, he establishes a new firm with a neighbor Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) and a line-up of friends who are bottom-feeder salesmen and drug pushers. They start a firm with the prestige-dripping name of Stratton Oakmont, aggressively playing the market by promoting bad stocks, then cashing out once the stocks reach a peak, a strategy scam called "pump and dump." Croesus, which they re-invest in extravagent lifestyles, primarily booze, drugs—primarily cocaine and quaaludes—and hookers, which are claimed on taxes as entertainment expenses. "On a daily basis I consume enough drugs to sedate Manhattan, Long Island, and Queens for a month," he crows in voice-over. "I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain",Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, pot to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine...well, because it's awesome." Before too long, he's in a toxic affair with Naomi Lapaglia (Margot Robbie), "a former model and Miller Lite girl," which gets found out by his wife, he's divorced, and married again to his blond dream girl.
"Cinema is a matter of what's in the frame and what's out"--Martin Scorsese
Margot Robbie as "Naomi" Belfort
NSFW, has multiple f-bombs (this film set a record for fictional films of 569 times over three hours, averaging 3.18 per minute, the clip is five minutes long, so you do the math), and will look bizarre out of context, as it is bizarre and zany enough in the film.
é behavior of all stripes—"not only was he a degenerate and a crook but he didn't have a high opinion of women, either" wins the "Sherlock" award for stating the obvious. And, again, the condemnation? It's there. Belfort out of control looks as ridiculous on-screen as the filmmakers can conspire to make him, short of giving him a "Bozo" nose; just because he is too full of himself (or some other substance) to recognize his ridiculousness does not mean that depiction does not exist. It just means that the character is maintaining his conscienceless attitude and his sociopathic detachment, especially regarding himself. In the Scorsese mixture of bull-headed comedy and tragedy, the protagonists don't recognize condemnation, even if they get it.It is, after all, "based on a true story." And a real creep.
|The real Jordan and Nadine Belfort in happier, if less sober, times
|That "Forbes" article they talk about in the movie.