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Monday 22 July 2019

Film reviews: Who's afraid of the big bad wolf?

Leonardo DiCaprio in 'The Wolf of Wall Street'
Leonardo DiCaprio in 'The Wolf of Wall Street'
Wolf whistle: Leonardo Decaprio plays a gogetting coke sniffing stockbroker

Paul Whittington

IF a film's style should hammer you over the head with its theme, Martin Scorsese deserves every award going for his work on this production. A movie about excess, The Wolf of Wall Street is excessive in absolutely all respects: three hours long, and containing more uses of the word 'fuck' than any other feature film to this date apparently, it barrels from coke-fuelled orgy to orgy with frightening vigour and presents Wall Street in the late '80s and early '90s as Sodom shortly before the fall.

The Wolf of Wall Street (18, general release, 179 minutes)
Director: Martin Scorsese.
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey.

Like Goodfellas, a film it resembles in a number of respects, Wolf of Wall Street amounts to a sustained assault on all the senses, and may either be celebrating or criticising the exploits of its debauched protagonist Jordan Belfort. To be honest, I couldn't quite decide.

Mr Belfort's is a true story, and the film is based on his not especially contrite memoir of the same name. Born to hard-working middle class parents and raised in Queens, Jordan Belfort was ambitious from the get-go and in 1987 landed a job as a junior stockbroker at the Wall Street investment bank LF Rothschild.

Rothschilds might have been a hundred years old and superficially respectable, but Ronald Reagan's financial deregulations were kicking in, and the coke-sniffing wide boys were beginning to take over.

In the film's best and funniest scene, Jordan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is taken to lunch by one of his bosses, Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), who swigs martinis in between lines of coke and advises Belfort to take up drugs and hookers if he wants to get ahead.

He also tells him that investors are there to be milked and flattered while you amass as much money as you can: both lessons Jordan earnestly takes to heart.

When Black Monday hits, the stock market crashes and so does LF Rothschild, leaving Jordan right back where he started. But when he gets a job at a suburban investor centre that sells penny stocks (shares in tiny companies that will never go anywhere) to gullible clients, our hero realises that he's a brilliant salesman, and that if he set up his own company and worked a similar scam on a larger scale, he could make a fortune.

Like Goodfellas, Wolf of Wall Street's excesses are punctuated by a knowing retrospective voiceover, and instead of violence it's sex and drugs that are meant to shock us here.

They do, though only for a time, because once you've seen Jordan sniff lines off one hooker's ass the thrill begins to pale. The debauchery in Scorsese's film becomes like a repetitive mantra, and may be intended to make you feel as nauseous as Mr Belfort must have after an average night out.

It's all brilliantly done of course, right down to the grinding soundtrack, and Mr Scorsese embellishes his story with the usual bravura flourishes. It's a curiously empty film, however, but perhaps it was supposed to be. One neither cares for Mr Belfort nor particularly despises him.

He's ridiculous and pathetic of course, but Mr Scorsese almost seems to have a touch of admiration for this ultimate go-getting American, and most of the characters that surround him are props and cyphers, especially the women. You could easily cut a half-hour of Wolf of Wall Street, but I'm not sure there'd be any point.


Hell to pay for couple

Devil's Due
(15A, general release, 89 minutes)
Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin.
Stars: Zach Gilford, Allison Miller, Sam Anderson, Aimee Carrero.

Made for half nothing, by the looks of it, with a little skill and lots of enthusiasm, Devil's Due blends 'found footage' aesthetics with the themes of Rosemary's Baby. Not that it could or should for a second be compared to Polanski's psychological masterpiece, for this is very much a B-movie, a trashy horror film that's fun for a while and would actually be good if its comedy were even occasionally intentional. When a young couple are too smugly in love, you just know that something bad is going to happen and Devil's Due lays on the happiness thick when it comes to Zach and Allison.

We watch them flirt and talk nonsense on the eve of their wedding, and after a slushy ceremony with family and friends they jet off to an idyllic honeymoon in the Dominican Republic. But a teasing prologue showing a confused and blood-splattered Zach has already suggested that something may go wrong, and on their last night in the Caribbean they fall in with the wrong crowd.

When Zach and Allison come to the next morning with ferocious hangovers, they think nothing of it and board a plane for home. And they're over the moon when Allison discovers shortly afterwards that she's pregnant. But when strange things start happening around the house, Zach begins to suspect something may be amiss.

It's the devil of course. Director Matt Bettinelli-Olpin manages his slow-burning Satanic theme with reasonable dexterity. Devil's Due is pretty entertaining until it finally comes time to explain everything.

Irish Independent

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