OF THEIR EX­CESS

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

THE ‘‘ greed is good’’ credo of Gor­don Gekko in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (1987) seems in­cred­i­bly tame in com­par­i­son with the life­style and philoso­phies of Jor­dan Belfort, the cen­tral char­ac­ter of Martin Scors­ese’s propul­sion-charged new film, The Wolf of Wall Street.

In his best­selling au­to­bi­og­ra­phy of the same name, Belfort charted his ca­reer from its mod­est be­gin­nings to the heights of drug­fu­elled, sex-ob­sessed, ut­terly amoral ex­cess when he be­came one of the rich­est men in the world of fi­nance, and then on to his late ca­reer as a crim­i­nal and FBI in­for­mant (and, fi­nally, a sought-af­ter mo­ti­va­tional speaker).

In some ways this tra­jec­tory is com­pa­ra­ble to that of the char­ac­ter played by Ray Liotta in Scors­ese’s Good­Fel­las (1990), and the two films do run on sim­i­lar tracks, though Wolf lacks the gang­ster film’s vis­ceral vi­o­lence.

If noth­ing else, The Wolf of Wall Street re­con­firms Scors­ese as one of Amer­ica’s finest liv­ing film­mak­ers. What­ever you may think of Belfort and the film in which he’s the cen­tral char­ac­ter, no one, surely, would deny the sheer bril­liance with which it’s made or the fu­ri­ous en­ergy of Leonardo DiCaprio’s cen­tral per­for­mance.

The film be­gins with a fre­netic mon­tage de­pict­ing Belfort’s life at the height (or depth) of his suc­cess: as he boasts of his achieve­ments, his tro­phy wife, Naomi (‘‘The for­mer Miller Lite Girl’’), his pala­tial home and his pri­vate he­li­copter, we see him snort­ing co­caine from the back­side of a pros­ti­tute and get­ting fel­lated as he drives his Fer­rari at high speed. Right from the start, Scors­ese rubs our noses in the face of this du­bi­ous rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem.

Then the flash­backs be­gin. As a young man back in 1987 (the year Wall Street opened), Belfort ar­rived in New York’s fi­nan­cial dis­trict to take up a hum­ble po­si­tion as a ‘‘ con­nec­tor’’ (a bro­ker who at­tempts to make deals by phone) at the long-es­tab­lished fi­nan­cial house LF Roth­schild. In one of the film’s best scenes, he’s taken out for a boozy (and druggy) lunch by se­nior bro­ker Mark Hanna — a su­perb Matthew McConaughey — who in­structs him in the ways of the City, which boil down to mov­ing money from your clients’ pock­ets to your pock­ets. Hanna claims there are two keys to the bro­ker­age busi­ness: re­lax­ation (which he equates with mas­tur­ba­tion) and co­caine (‘‘It will help you dial faster’’). In other words, sex and drugs — the rock ’ n’ roll is yet to come.

No sooner has Belfort started work than Black Mon­day brings the tem­po­rary col­lapse of the mar­ket and he’s out of a job — but not for long. He finds his way to a cheap, shopfront bro­ker­age com­pany whose man­ager (played, with­out credit, by Spike Jonze, the ta­lented di­rec­tor of Her), while amazed that this well-dressed young man wants this kind of work, hires him.

Sell­ing ‘‘ garbage to garbage­men’’, read­ers of Pop­u­lar Me­chan­ics and Hustler, soon proves prof­itable — for one thing, Belfort’s com­mis­sion is 50 per cent, whereas it was only 1 per cent on Wall Street. Soon he’s as­sem­bled his own team of bro­kers and founded a com­pany with a smart-sound­ing name — Strat­ton Oak­mont — and he’s on his way. His first lieu­tenant is Don­nie Azoff (Jonah Hill), who is as ded­i­cated to mak­ing a lot of money as Belfort him­self.

Belfort thinks noth­ing of cheat­ing his clients (‘‘Money makes you a bet­ter per­son,’’ he be­lieves, so he’s ded­i­cated to mak­ing as much as he pos­si­bly can) and not sur­pris­ingly his dis­hon­esty ex­tends to his deal­ings with his wife, Teresa (Cristin Mil­i­oti). He cheats on her with a pa­rade of high-class whores be­fore he be­comes in­fat­u­ated with the spec­tac­u­lar Naomi (Mar­got Rob­bie, who was born on Queens­land’s Gold Coast the year Good­Fel­las was re­leased and who is a grad­u­ate of Neigh­bours).

When they’re not mak­ing ex­tra­or­di­nary amounts of money the staff of Strat­ton Oak­mont, en­thu­si­as­ti­cally led by their boss, in­dulge in a se­ries of or­gies that even the Ro­man em­per­ors might have re­jected as ex­ces­sive. Scors­ese de­picts all of this with his usual en­ergy, cin­e­matic smarts and ap­par­ent de­light in ex­plor­ing the world of truly reprehensible peo­ple. He’s been ac­cused of glo­ri­fy­ing Belfort and his life­style, just as he was ac­cused of glo­ri­fy­ing gang­sters in his ear­lier films — but while, un­like Oliver Stone, he’s not a moral­ist, it seems clear that he’s hold­ing up the lives of th­ese in­dul­gent mem­bers of the fi­nan­cial com­mu­nity as ex­am­ples of where un­re­strained greed and a to­tal lack of morals will lead.

The fi­nal reels clearly in­di­cate the di­rec­tor’s point of view, al­though it must be ad­mit­ted he takes a long time to get there (the film runs a minute short of three hours). In the process he gives us his fun­ni­est and most per­versely en­ter­tain­ing movie.

One of the film’s fun­ni­est seg­ments in­volves Belfort’s at­tempts to laun­der money in a Swiss bank with the help of his wife’s English aunt (Joanna Lum­ley) and a cor­rupt banker (Jean Du­jardin).

Play­ing a wealthy high-liver for the sec­ond time in a year (af­ter The Great Gatsby), DiCaprio gives an as­ton­ish­ing per­for­mance, while Rob­bie moves into the ma­jor league with her some­times shock­ing por­trait of a woman whose am­bi­tion gets in the way of her judg­ment.

With its wall-to-wall four-let­ter di­a­logue and its quite ex­plicit scenes of deca­dence, The Wolf of Wall Street won’t be to ev­ery­one’s taste, but it’s an in­dis­pens­able ad­di­tion to the small col­lec­tion of films that have chal­lenged the way Amer­ica’s fi­nan­cial sys­tem is con­ducted. As such, Belfort’s story is, in­deed, a cau­tion­ary tale. CON­VICT, which is get­ting a very lim­ited re­lease in a hand­ful of cine­mas, is an Aus­tralian film that also deals with cor­rup­tion — this time in the prison sys­tem. Its pro­tag­o­nist is Ray Fran­cis, played by Ge­orge Basha (who scripted the film and co-di­rects with David Field).

Fran­cis, who is of Mid­dle East­ern parent­age though born in Aus­tralia, is a vet­eran of the war in Iraq and on the day he re­turns home af­ter com­plet­ing his term of duty — and hav­ing won a medal for brav­ery — he pro­poses to his girl­friend (Mil­lie Rose Hey­wood). An in­stant later, she’s propo­si­tioned by an odi­ous Jor­dan Belfort-type driv­ing a Fer­rari; in the en­su­ing fight, this ob­nox­ious in­ter­loper is ac­ci­den­tally killed and, de­spite his army record, Fran­cis is sen­tenced to 18 months in prison on a man­slaugh­ter con­vic­tion. The dead man’s wealthy and in­flu­en­tial fa­ther (David Roberts) suc­ceeds in brib­ing the prison war­den, Jack Mor­ri­son (Field), into mak­ing life hell for his son’s killer, a goal Mor­ri­son and a cou­ple of his guards set about with rel­ish.

The film, which is well acted and very com­pe­tently di­rected de­spite its rather too con­trived plot­ting (in­clud­ing an un­con­vinc­ing con­clu­sion), is hor­rific in its take on how the prison sys­tem works and how Arab and Abo­rig­i­nal pris­on­ers are, in this in­stance, set against one another. There’s also an in­ter­est­ing se­quence in which Fran­cis at­tempts to ex­plain to other Mid­dle East­ern pris­on­ers why he, of Le­banese ex­trac­tion, fought in the Aus­tralian Army in Iraq.

Con­vict is a tough film to sit through, but a good ex­am­ple of com­pletely in­de­pen­dent cin­ema in this coun­try at the mo­ment.

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