"Let me tell you something... There is no nobility in poverty. I've been a poor man, and I've been a rich man... And I chops rich every f*cking time!"
Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio)
Martin Scorsese's latest film is a pitch-black comedy based on the memoirs of one Jordan Belfort, a former stockbroker and motivational speaker who was convicted of multiple stock frauds in the late 90s. This material is perfectly suited to Scorsese, and he doesn't hold back in depicting the serial larceny and hard-partying lifestyles of Belfort and his boiler room cohorts. The veteran director shows no signs of slowing down as he unleashes his razzmatazz bag of whirling camera moves, freeze-frames and direct-to-camera soliloquies to re-enact the morally-dubious actions of these Pump and Dump entrepreneurs. Class A drugs and class "debatable" hookers are the rewards that Belfort bestows on his loving minions as fraudulent penny stock options line their grubby pockets - and that's before we even get to "midget darts". As Belfort, regular collaborator Leonardo DiCaprio proves once again that he is Hollywood's premium star as he imbues his character with both charm and bloodshot-eyed mania. Ably assisting him is another fine turn from Jonah Hill as his ice-white toothed partner in crime Donnie Azoff (a fictional character based on Belfort's real-life associate Danny Porush), as well as strong performances from Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler and (in a small but perfectly formed cameo) Mathew McConaughey.
Scorsese never for one moment sits on the fence here - he practically revels in the debauched excesses that Belfort and his gang at Stratton Oakmont engaged in. It is this over-indulgence that some may argue seems a little out of touch with current opinions on stockbrokers and high-risk investment. Is Scorsese endorsing such behavior for today's Wall Street moneymen? The sheer amount of breasts, buttocks and barbiturates on display would seem to suggest so. And while the film zips through its 3-hour running time, Thelma Schoonmaker's editing scissors could have been put to use a little more productively on some of the more rambling sequences. In contrast to this, when we come to our anti-hero's downfall the end act is rather abrupt and lacking in detail - we have journeyed with this man through so many (illegal) highs on his adventure, that a little more on the scale of the comedown would have been favorable. However this is minor nitpicking for faults - Scorsese has made another master class of immoral excess. Some may scorn the lack of morals displayed by our protagonists, the rest of us will revel in it.
Martin Scorsese once again shows his peers how to make a glorious immorality tale for the big screen, with only some minor editing issues that prevent it from reaching the stratospheric heights of his 70s heyday.
"She was the Picasso of passive-aggressive karate."
Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale)
Loosely based (and I cannot overstate the word "loosely") on the ABSCAM sting operation conducted by the FBI in the late 70s and early 80s, David O. Russell's latest comedy drama certainly has the credentials. His unfussy, easy-going style is stamped across both the camerawork and editing, while he has raided his little actors black book to bring in a strong group of character players. Russell brings back his former The Fighter actors Christian Bale and Amy Adams, while Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper (as well as a cameo from Robert De Nero) return from the director's last movie Silver Linings Playbook. The casting is the film's strongest hand, as the actors consistently make up for the script's rather lethargic pacing and focus. Russell and his co-writer Eric Singer certainly keep the dialogue snappy and the plot twists believable, but scenes drag past necessity and a sharper use of the editing scissors would have helped at this early stage.
The cast are all playing to their strengths, particularly Bale and Adams, who are the real standouts here. Cooper does some of his better work with a rather unlikable character, while Lawrence embellishes what is really an extended cameo with nuance and style. Special mention must also go to Jeremy Renner as a NJ Mayor who proves to be the most honest character in the group - and that is including the Feds. It is then a real shame that the finished film remains flabby and rambling (like Bale's con artist, which is perhaps the intention) - and while it is certainly amusing and entertaining, the film struggles to linger for long in the memory. This makes Russell's recent nomination for Best Director at the Oscars rather confusing… Maybe that is the best con trick the film has pulled off?
David O. Russell's latest pic sees another ensemble cast overwhelm a rather lightweight and throwaway story with enough grit and class to ensure for an entertaining, if forgettable, night at the pictures.