The Wolf of Wall Street is a joyous tale of decadence

Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill star in The Wolf of Wall Street
Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill star in The Wolf of Wall Street

FILM
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

Cert 18 | By Steve Dinneen
Four Stars

THE WOLF of Wall Street is a film about awful people doing awful things in a company where being awful paid unbelievable dividends, for a while at least. Thankfully, in the hands of septuagenarian director Martin Scorsese, this doesn’t translate into an awful film; it’s a gloriously dark, joyously intoxicated portrayal of excess, hubris and addiction.

Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the eponymous Wolf, a name bestowed upon him in a (real life) hatchet job profile in Forbes magazine. After being fired from his Wall Street firm in the wake of Black Monday, he joins a bargain-basement broking operation housed in a backwater Long Island retail park. Here penny stocks are punted to gullible poor people without the tedious yolk of financial regulation – nobody makes any real money so nobody asks any real questions.

Belfort’s twisted genius is in taking this model out of suburbia and into the heart of New York City, peddling fraudulently inflated shares to the richest men in the country. To achieve this he recruits a braying, ragtag army of hustlers who he whips into a frenzy of greed and testosterone through motivational speeches and class-A drugs.

Addiction inevitably takes hold, with the particular substance largely irrelevant; drugs, sex, money, power, the sound of his own voice. The fug of stimulation rarely lifts for long enough for reality to bite – at least not until it’s far too late.

DiCaprio is on the form of his life, juggling Belfort’s flick-knife sharp salesman shtick with his frothing, raving excesses. It’s the latter that take centre stage – if every scene depicting “Wolfie” snorting cocaine from the intimate regions of a prostitute were cut, the three hour running time would tumble to around seven and a half minutes. One particularly inspired conversation focuses on the legal ramifications of molesting a dwarf who has been hired for staff to throw against a giant dart board.

Trouble in this anti-paradise starts when the firm enters the big leagues, flying too high in all senses of the word. It wins the contract to run the IPO books for shoe designer Steve Madden, but not before Belfort’s Stratton Oakmont has surreptitiously bought 85 per cent of the firm. This is as close as we get to the machinations of Belfort’s fraudulent activity – during his  decidedly Henry Hill-esque voiceover, he’s keen to gloss over the details in favour of anecdotes about crashing helicopters and trashing hotels.

Does The Wolf of Wall Street glamourise a malign, criminal enterprise (a charge that’s dominated its reception, especially in light of its Oscar nods)? Yes: it makes working for Stratton Oakmont look like a hoot. It’s a glimpse into a pre-recession world of unlimited wealth and unfettered consumption – a rich smoothie of sex, drugs and dwarf tossing – of course it looks glamorous, that’s the point.

Like Scorsese’s 1990 gangster epic Goodfellas – the most obvious parallel in Scorsese’s canon – The Wolf of Wall Street is about the corruption of the American dream. During one rabble-rousing speech Belfort bellows: “I want you to deal with your problems by becoming rich... Stratton is America... this is Ellis Island”. But Scorsese is at pains to avoid getting bogged down with moralising. Stealing from people is bad – you shouldn’t need Martin Scorsese to tell you that. What he’s created is far more than a diatribe: it’s a slick, impeccably paced, brilliantly acted drama, and it’s his best work in years.

ART
DAVID LYNCH: FACTORY PHOTOS

Photographers’ Gallery | By Steve Dinneen
Two Stars

SOME 90 images of decaying industrial spaces taken by renowned film director David Lynch line the top floor of the Photographer’s Gallery.

Some are reminiscent of the claustrophobic worlds from his movies (especially Eraserhead), but most are just well composed, largely forgettable shots of cracked factory windows and eroding steam-valves.

In a world before Instagram existed to convert your common-and-garden snapshots into moody, black and white masterpieces, and before urban exploration of decaying spaces became mainstream news, this exhibition would probably have had far more impact. As it is, it’s little more than an appendix to the artist’s better-known work.

FILM
CRYSTAL FAIRY

Cert 18 | By Alex Dymoke
Four Stars

WITH mumbler-in-chief Michael Cera playing the lead and a tinkling indie soundtrack, Crystal Fairy could easily have been as whimsical as its name suggests, but it isn’t. Films of this tone and slightness tend to dwell in the scruffy suburban bedrooms of their shy protagonists, but Crystal Fairy unfolds in the ruggedly beautiful Chilean mountains. Placed in such unfamiliar surroundings, away from the comfort of their record collections, the characters seem more exposed, more in possession of chutzpah just for having made it this far from home.

Cera plays Jamie, an American drug-pilgrim in search of San Pedro, the cactus from which the hallucinogen mescaline is made. For Jamie, drugs are serious. His appreciation of them verges on academic. It’s hard to tell whether his Chilean companions are confused or bored by his sermons on the “phenomenology” of certain highs: in the opening scene he holds court in the upstairs room of a San Tiago house party, recommending Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception as students hoover up lines. At the same party he meets Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffmann), a bangle-wearing backpacker whose conversation is a relentless stream of “energy” and “chacras”. In a drugged haze, Jamie invites her to accompany him and his Chilean friends on a trip to the coast.

Cera’s stock in trade may be dough-eyed sensitivity, but Jamie is downright insensitive. He cruelly mocks Crystal’s new-age quirks, dubbing her “Crystal Hairy” after she parades her naked body. His nastiness doesn’t stop him being supremely funny. Cera is well-attuned to the absurdity of being a control freak about taking mind-expanding drugs. Laughs are hearty and plentiful.

Crystal Fairy is observantly directed and delicately written, with sharp insights into what drives people to inhabit new-agey, druggy sub-cultures. There’s a richly satisfying moment of moonlit catharsis, too, but it’s tempered with enough ambiguity to ward off the nauseous feeling of having eaten too much sugar that often follows films of a similar ilk.

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