In what has been viewed as part of a loose trilogy where Martin Scorsese has explored the criminal underbelly of the American Dream, The Wolf of Wall Street continues in the good old tradition of previous alumni, Casino and Goodfellas, by utilising a similar structural narrative alongside musical montage sequences and the obligatory cut-throat mentality adopted by the story’s central characters.
With Goodfellas woven into the cultural fabric of a genre now viewed as a cornerstone in the lexicon of modern cinema, Scorsese has continually been able to subvert the crime format by creating an interesting dynamic between the main protagonists, with emphasis on an unlikely anti-hero figure.
This usually involves exposing the malevolent nature of a character whose involvement in criminal activity would normally be at odds with the core values of the average viewer. Yet somehow Scorsese is able to inspire a sense of compassion and empathy amongst the audience which recalls Quentin Crisp’s maxim that ‘Charisma is the ability to influence without logic.’ This is often observed from a progressive point of view which outlines the changing rags to riches dynamic of the character arc.
However, in this instance Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of Jordan Belfort appears absolute in a performance that fails to document the evolution of his depraved psyche and instead comes across as a contrived attempt to showcase a one dimensional caricature that embodies the deadly sins of modern capitalism.
As Belfort is introduced to the daunting Wall Street environment he is quickly given what appears to be some attempt at Zen enlightenment or lack thereof from a hilarious Matthew McConaughey, whose cameo performance dominates the screen and largely captures the essence of the entire movie within a 5 minute segment.
Cue endless scenes of decadence and misogyny, which abruptly shift from one cocaine induced orgy to the next. Coupled with the occasional pit stop to a highly strung office environment where Belfort spews motivational clichés to a sycophantic staff who hang on his every word, while he unapologetically squeezes the life blood from each potential stock buyer.
Although the film doesn’t necessarily glamorise Belfort’s abhorrent lifestyle, it is on the other hand keen to expose the frailties of his relationships and empirical downfall which by this point, however, seems totally redundant from a viewer’s perspective. Mainly due in fact to the lack of substantial character development here which falls short in providing a functioning anti-hero that the audience can root for.
Therein where the problem lies as DiCaprio’s portrayal of Belfort could have been cited as one of the great villains of modern cinema. It’s just too hard not to feel blasé about what could have otherwise been an exciting tableau of sociopathic awareness which instead unfurls into an amoral exercise bereft of little subtext with regards to the current financial climate.
IMDb: The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, from his rise to a wealthy stock-broker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government.