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The Wolf of Wall Street

Year: 2013
Production Co: Red Granite Pictures
Director: Martin Scorsese
Producer: Martin Scorsese
Writer: Terence Winter/Jordan Belfort
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Jon Bernthal, Matthew McConaughey, Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin, Joanna Lumley

A tale of wretched excess, too much power, and an obscene lack of discipline.

Not Jordan Belfort – Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio. Hearing stories about how the original cut was going to be hours and hours long, you'd expect the version we got in theatres to be an exercise in narrative economy, every scene and line critical to the story.

Instead, there are so many scenes that depict the wild lifestyle that thirty to sixty minutes could have been shaved off without any loss of narrative cohesion. Belfort and his workmates take drugs, screw hookers, have more money than they can spend and will all end up self-destructing as a result. In the words of the line we've learnt from a million American movies; we get it. Dwarf throwing, banging skanks on office desks and every other scene of debauchery are fun enough, but most of them say the same thing.

Of course, Scorsese's swooping, kinetic style and DiCaprio's charismatic grasping of your shirt to shout Belfort's abhorrent personality into your face are distracting enough so that you won't realise until it's over how redundant a lot of it was.

It's also not at all original, telling us the same story Wall Street did decades ago, only with far less about the financial swindling involved and far more relaxed censorship standards in the year 2013. Like Bud Fox, Belfort is an amoral con artist with no ambition other than riches, and a skewed moral compass convinces him it's a noble aim and that everyone in the world who doesn't have it is a loser.

He thinks people can be bought and sold no differently than possessions, and as the smartest movies about corrupt rich people show – he's right. But as all movies about rich people usually show, they're inherently the bad guy for having all the money, boats, chicks and freedom the rest of us don't and the movie-going pubic will never be satisfied until we see them answer for it.

It was interesting to see all the comment about how the film didn't really show Belfort paying the price for his hubris, leaving Scorsese and DiCaprio to defend it by saying the lack of redemption and punishment doesn't condone the behaviour. Some measure of that is provided in the subplot of the dogged FBI investigation into Belfort's business, but mostly it's just about a guy who was always going to destroy himself more effectively than any criminal prosecution could.

There's one very big upside in all of it, and that's DiCaprio playing happy, however surface-level. Most of his characters are focused cynics on dangerous missions, and no matter how good an actor he is he's never usually called on to do anything apart from scowl and frown. Having him laughing, dancing and howling on a microphone is a new direction and watching him in scenes of overt comedy – like the Quaalude-stricken crawl across a country club parking lot to his car – are a treat.

Like Hayao Miyazuki with the recent The Wind Rises, I don't think Scorsese has an outright bad film in him. But this is more Gangs of New York than Goodfellas.

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