What a pleasure to see at age 70 Martin Scorsese, into the latter stage of his career, deliver one more sprawling crime picture, in this case a film which acts like a capper to a trilogy including Goodfellas and Casino, three pictures connected by the director's blistering cinematic pace, it's fascinating viewpoint into three segments of high stakes crime and corruption and it's sympathetic portrait of three contemptible characters. Once again Scorsese succeeds.
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) dir. Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo Di Caprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler
By Alan Bacchus
If there's anything to critique here it's the film's reliance on the story narrative template of Goodfellas. The journey of wannabe Wall Street player Jordan Belfort who enters the nefarious world of stock broking and through talent and hubris builds an empire of wealth only to have it toppled down by his own greed and arrogance, is transplanted right from the story of Henry Hill. In particular the orchestration of Belfort's downfall via the FBI which mirror's Hill's, not to mention the stylistic similarities from the first person voiceover, the rock and roll rhythm and various freeze frames, slow motion effects. But this is the arsenal for all Scorsese films and few in the history of cinema can match Scorsese's balanced blend of style and substance.
At three hours it pushes the character even farther than Casino, which ran 170mins. Most of the picture is on Di Caprio's shoulders. And it's no wonder Leo was the producer and driving force behind the project. His elevated and bombastic performance is as vain and self centred as we've ever seen. This is not a critique though as Leo's boisterous command of the screen is part and parcel to Scorsese's vision of the story as a carnival of excess which fueled Belford's life and career. - a vision pushed well into farcical comedic territory.
As he's done in much of his career Scorsese has eschewed plot in favour of a collection of individual scenes glued by a number of bravura montage sequences. Many of the scenes run on 10mins crafted with such perfection they seem like little films unto themselves. The most memorable is a lengthy chase sequence of sorts in slo-motion featuring Belfort extremely high on quaaludes struggling to crawl to his house before the FBI can wiretap his phone. Scorsese's attention to detail of the scene in this case exemplifies his unique technical mastery.
Scorsese also makes a conscious effort not to vilify Belfort despite his outrageous, mysoginist and downright infernal behaviour. In fact we're meant to sympathize with his point of view and, however uncomfortable, see him as a hero of the American dream. This also is consistent with Scorsese's career long examination of the miscreants of society. Belfort's point of view is attractive to Scorsese as Travis Bickle's, Rupert Pupkin's, Henry Hill's or Jake La Motta's.
But this time around we appreciate the film as much for its place in Scorsese's body of work as the character he's created or story he's telling. Public appreciation not surprisingly has been instant, a public which now reveres Goodfellas and Casino now before than ever before.