(An edited version of this was first published in The New Indian Express)
Early in the film – as part of one of the greatest cameos ever – Mathew McConaughey’s Mark Hanna advises Jordan Belfort (Leonardo Di Caprio) on the ways and lifestyle of Wall Street. It’s a scene that is all Scorsese with punch line after punch line, great performances and supreme staging. It’s Hanna that’s doing all the talking but we mostly get the reaction shots from Belfort. Belfort has just joined under Hanna in a brokerage firm and arrived at Wall Street with one harmless vice if you can call it that – urge to get rich. Otherwise he is a sincere greenhorn in the business. Hanna’s attempts to proselytize Belfort take a lasting effect. He says it as a matter of fact, “This is not a tip. This is a prescription, trust me.” We realize that this is an apt description of the rest of the film as well.
From then on, the film is a zany ride. It operates on a completely different plane and does not get down whatsoever. The drugs are all over the place and it has already created controversy as to whether the film glorifies them or not. Whatever they do or not do, the drugs act as a metaphor. Scorsese peddles them not only to his characters but to the movie itself. The film is high, no holds barred and shouts its schemes over rooftops. Every character is high at every moment. Either the recreational kind or the money. It can get a little too much at times. Scorsese is relentless with his chosen level of operation. The film can be loud, the characters loud and the speech and deliveries loud. The speech before the Steve Madden IPO by Jordan Belfort to his employees is particularly grating for how repetitive it is. But it is obvious that this overkill is a feature and not a bug. In another scene with Scorsese stamp all over it, FBI agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) comes visiting Belfort in his yacht. The trajectory this scene takes is a thing of beauty. It goes from a regulation Q&A session to funny and brilliant maneuver on the FBI’s part. Belfort even admits how his company is sometimes loud in a lot of things it does. That’s Scorsese idea of treatment right there.
Leonardo Di Caprio is in fine form with a superb supporting cast around him consisting of Jonah Hill, Jean Dujardin, Kyle Chandler et al. He is over the top just how the film wants him to be. He is on all fours a number of times in the film’s numerous sex scenes. But his finest comes when he is on all fours for entirely different reasons. The whole stretch encapsulates the film’s philosophy in the most brilliant way possible and Di Caprio and Jonah Hill play it at their highest level.
There are a lot of references and switches to pop culture. There is The Equalizer, Family Matters and at one instant, even Popeye. Of course, Gordon Gekko is not too far behind either. The film has tons of dark humor and you have to constantly check yourself before laughing out loud. It’s not without its weaknesses and history and multiple viewings may judge the film in a better way among the Scorsese canon. It can be offensive, repetitive, off-putting and a difficult film to watch at times. But all said and done, it is one hell of a trip from the Master.