Thursday, 23 January 2014

Who's Afraid Of the Big Bad Wolf?


It seems that Martin Scorsese's latest mini marathon picture 'The Wolf Of Wall Street' is really dividing people down the love \ hate axis. Mark Kermode particularly took against the film which he outlines in his Kermode Uncut blog. Yes, he's an old trot student at heart (Socialist Worker! Smash the bosses! etc) but I fail to accept his notion that he dislikes the film due to the impenetrable and unsympathetic nature of DiCaprio's character, Jordan Belfort. 

Leonardo DiCaprio's performance is possibly a career best as the swaggering cock with eyebrows, his fingers rarely without rolled up 100 dollar bill, a septum bombarded by bugle, bloodstream diluted by herpes busting penicillin and suits rarely costing less that $5,000. Quickly moving from bottom of the pile worker bee he rises to the level of Wall Street phenomenon by using dodgy practices selling penny stocks to people who can't afford it to swindle millions from those who could. His OTT speeches, his gluttony for wine women and money, it is all vulgar, distasteful but I found it impossible to HATE him in the ways that others have.

If the film has a major flaw its in its depiction of women. They are either wives and girlfriends to be drooled over, fucked and then married at which point they become the root of all evil and the destroyers of all joy. The rest are eye candy and whores - literally and figuratively.  There is a strange point in one of Leo's grandstanding speeches when the hitherto sidelined senior female member of staff is revealed to have been helped out in the early days by Belfort because "I believed in you". Its as if Scorsese is seeing "yes he's a misogynistic asshole but he cares about people". I would have preferred that we had got her take on the macho, drug filled, hooker shagging and locker room fun. It is very strange that in the time of AIDS and 'don't die of ignorance' that all this copious humping of hookers doesn't lead to an office wide culling. 

Let's face it, Scorsese has always made "men's films" - the opening scene of 'Mean Streets' with its scenes of male bonding in a bar, the macho idiocy of 'The Deer Hunter', the male trust and loyalty of 'Goodfellas' & 'Casino' - its testosterone-tastic stuff! Women characters are rarely well fleshed out with Sharon Stone's Ginger McKenna and her slow descent into madness during 'Casino' being a rare exception. 

Joanna Lumley has a cameo role as Naomi's posh aunt which also means we get a short trip to London (Houses Of Parliament (tick) double decker red bus ((tick), guardsman in bearskin (tick) but NO Gherkin (faints)) and a wonderful scene which you feel may end in Leon and Lumley appear in post-coital glow. Sadly she is there mostly to provide sage advice, a little twinkle and a narrative device.

That isn't to say that the lead female character in TWOWS isn't a strong willed and intelligent woman. OK you can forget about the Bechdel Test (for those unaware this examines a work of fiction to see if it has two women having a conversation about something other than a man or men) yet Belfort's second wife, Naomi (Margot Robbie) is not a stock gold-digging strumpet. In the opening monologue from DiCaprio - hey it's Scorsese of course it opens with a long monologue! - she is introduced alongside shots of his house, his cars, his helicopter, setting out clearly that she too is regarded as result of his hard work. 

Belatedly as their relationship goes wrong we see her more than hold her own in arguments with him, the tricks and power he uses at work fail him at home. She uses sex and her beauty to bring this monstrous Wall Street presence to the level of a groveling little boy. In one memorable scene she bringing him to his knees only for the tables to be turned, leaving her humiliated.  

SO, why, despite all these misgivings, did I enjoy this film so much, its 3 hours flying by with not a moment of boredom?

The film won the Golden Globe for "best Comedy or Musical" and admittedly it does have some very funny sequences. Matthew McConaughey as his messianic first boss and guru, an attempt to sleep through a trip to Switzerland with various medicinal mixtures descends into chaos. Rob Reiner's turn as Jordan's father dealing with expenses bills for what the music biz used to call "fruit and flowers". Jonah Hill is brilliant as Donnie, the overgrown child of a man involved in a scene with DiCaprio when they OD on Quaaludes and Leo demonstrates some previously hidden slapstick skills. Its maybe not a comedy in teh traditional sense but the surreal situations and behavior does produce some laugh out loud funny stuff. I think the makers are a bit nervous that people laugh at what they are supposed to (or they want them to) rather than some of the more reprehensible actions. 

The macho, drug snorting, prossie pumping school playground that is the office norm just heightens the unreality of the picture with its sheer decadence washing over you like toxic skin peel. There is one short scene where a member of staff has all her hair shaved off for $10,000 so she can, as Leo tells us, get breast implants. I found the spectacle of this really disturbing. I'm not sure it was the slightly stunned and devastated look on her face as her long hair fell into her lap. Or that it so much reminded me of film of French women who had had relationships with Germans during WWII getting this done to them in public. I'm sure like many things from the film it did happen in reality but it just felt wrong. 

And perhaps that is the point. 

You are not supposed to enjoy or envy these people in their world. If the film has you applauding DiCaprio and pals for their immoral and repulsive attitudes. When Leo literally blows his nose on a $100 dollar bill or throws money adding to a years wages at an FBI man, you are right to be disgusted. It might be a ghoulish fascination but it certainly isn't an aspirational life on display here. It's a film which those cocks and cockesses from 'The Appentice' would see as their ultimate playground - that's how odious, self centered and downright deluded it is. 

It's a film that doesn't apologise, doesn't judge, doesn't moralize, just presents thing how they were and leave it up to the viewer to take it how they will. Of course some morons will applaud the more serious and thuggish actions but not all films are straightforward and clean cut as that. 

I can understand why people may find its 3 hours running time a turn off, its gleeful relishing of the idiotic behaviour that plunged us into our current financial mire and for its endless gaudy parade of sex, money and materialism but I say this is Scorsese's best film in many a year and love it or hate it, you need to see it. 

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