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Film Review: Scorsese's rise and fall film is a tale of disappointment

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 DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort.

DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort.

DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort.

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET Drama. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau, Kyle Chandler, Jean Dujardin, Joanna Lumley. Director: Martin Scorsese. Cert: 18

Martin Scorsese's 23rd feature film comes tearing out of the blocks with a vengeance. Within the first 10 minutes he's set up the story of disgraced Wall Street stockbroker Jordan Belfort with a pizzaz and panache which harks back to his crowning achievement, 1990's Goodfellas. The visual and stylistic flourishes are all here: the voiceover from Leonardo DiCaprio preparing us for a rise and fall tale, hints of excess to come and freeze-frames of debauched scenes will all be welcomed with hand-rubbing delight by Scorsese fans. So why does The Wolf of Wall Street feel like such a bitter disappointment?

At the press screening I attended you could feel the crackle of anticipation before the titles rolled and sense a genuine air of delight during the opening hour or so, yet three hours after the lights dimmed everybody left the cinema in silence, and we're talking about some serious Scorsese nuts here. Part of the problem with the film lies with its length. There's simply no way even a filmmaker of Scorsese's skill could justify this potentially rich but irritatingly repetitive script (by Terence Winter from Belfort's own bragfest of an autobiography) being stretched to 180 minutes.

Picture yourself in a fancy bar at the height of the Celtic Tiger with a bunch of coked-up financial wideboys braying at an adjoining table for the guts of three hours and you'll have some idea of the exhaustion and numbness The Wolf of Wall Street induces by the time the credits come as a merciful relief.

 

Much of the problem with the film lies in the source material itself. Whereas in the past Scorsese has given us characters who weren't model citizens by any stretch of the imagination they at least had some redeeming traits about them, even if it was some misguided sense of loyalty to a gang or a perverted form of honour among thieves. Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) has none of these saving graces. A money-mad sociopath, he makes his mark in the financial world by duping working-class people into buying cheap stocks that he knows to be worthless and skimming off a huge commission. In his own words he sells "garbage stocks to garbagemen" yet the movie cops out by presenting this scam as some sort of genius wheeze, never stopping for a second to question the morality of what this fraudster has been doing or showing us the consequences of his actions.

The flashiness, humour and infectious energy of the film's first hour will lull you into a false sense of security, but as Belfort and his cronies take their scamming ways to Wall Street itself and the Feds begin to take an interest in these maverick stockbrokers the relentless bragging and scenes of debauched excess become incredibly wearisome. Thank God Scorsese's regular editor, the great Thelma Schoonmaker, was on board to rein him in – even though too many scenes go on way too long and feel semi-improvised, never a good idea when someone as annoying as Jonah Hill has a prominent role – otherwise there's no knowing how long this would have stretched to.

In fairness, there are quite a few extremely good elements lurking in this bloated beast of a film. Leonardo DiCaprio does a great job in making a thoroughly loathsome character even vaguely interesting and there's an inspired piece of physical comedy when some vintage quaaludes kick in unexpectedly. Matthew McConaughey shines in a cameo early on as a financial mentor and Rob Reiner is excellent as Belfort's accountant father who works for the firm but somehow seems oblivious to its dodgy practices.

Really though, the more I thought about The Wolf of Wall Street the more its flaws became apparent. Even were a full hour to be shaved off the running time – and you wouldn't miss it, believe me – it'd still be hard to find this movie a place at the top table in Scorsese's canon.

 

3/5

 

DEVIL'S DUE Horror: Starring Zach Gilford, Allison Miller, Aimee Carrero, Sam Anderson, Donna Duplantier. Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett. Cert: 15A

THIS low-budget but occasionally effective horror can be boiled down to 'Rosemary's Baby meets Paranormal Activity' as newlywed couple Zach (Zach Gilford) and Samantha (Allison Miller) travel to the Dominican Republic on their honeymoon, get a bit trashed on their last night and end up at some dodgy underground club on the wrong side of time. On their return Samantha discovers that she's pregnant and, as the pregnancy progresses, she begins to suspect that all is not well. Luckily for us, Zach is a camera nut and has been recording pretty much their every move since just before the wedding.

Devil's Due is as derivative as, ahem, hell but is well aware of its limitations and knows when to drop a sly wink to horror aficionados in the audience.

 

3/5

ALSO RELEASED THIS WEEK: Get down to the IFI if you can to see a restored version of The Night of the Hunter on the big screen. Robert Mitchum gives arguably the best performance of his career, as a homicidal preacher on the trail of two children he believes know the location of loot from a bank robbery. It's a masterpiece of Southern Gothic yet received such a hammering on its 1955 release that Charles Laughton never directed another film again. Don't miss this masterpiece.


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