It’s a brave move to make a movie where your protagonist is a total douche and doesn’t have a redemptive story arc, as you’re asking the audience to buy come along for a ride with someone they dislike, and may actually want to get busted. Martin Scorsese has often focused on flawed characters who do terrible things (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas) and here he tackles a greedy, unrepentant crook in the form of stockbroker Jordan Belfort.
Belfort began his career as a junior trader and was wiped out by Black Monday, the 1987 stock market crash. Starting from the bottom selling penny stocks, he proceeds to build his own company Stratton Oakmont, quickly getting rich thanks to dodgy dealing, fraud and a bunch of economics stuff I don’t fully understand. At the same time Belfort and his underlings descend into extreme debauchery, fueled by a cocktail of drugs they jet around the world in a whirl of strippers, hookers and excess.
Before long he attracts the attention of the FBI and the net begins to tighten due to a combination of errors, stupidity and bad luck.
One of the best moves Scorsese pulls is by making the story into a jet-black comedy as opposed to a serious drama. A serious drama could work, but would require some kind of character development and judging from recent interviews the real Belfort is more sorry that he got caught than for his actions. For a drama it lacks a final act finish that satisfies, Belfort goes to prison but uses his money to live a cushy life behind bars and then continues to make a living with “I can make you rich” seminars.
But as a jet black comedy it works a treat, with the farcical elements cranked up to 11 in places and some fast paced, profane dialogue providing plenty of laughs.
The best thing Scorsese does however is put Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role. DiCaprio has developed into one of the best actors of his generation and his performance here is magnetic, he manages to capture the smooth talking charisma that gets people to go along with Belfort and his rallying speeches to his cash-hungry minions are well done and commanding, even if they provide an uncomfortable look into the heart of greed.
DiCaprio holds the audience’s attention and is a captivating, if infuriating protagonist giving swaggering narration for the audience and oozing a sense of entitlement and ruthless ambition. It’s a strong performance as he manages to capture Belfort’s flaws and anger, and strives to make him human for the audience. The problem is that the script, based on Belfort’s own book paints him as an insufferable character, and it’s too DiCaprio’s credit that he sometimes gets you to sympathize with this man.
He also shows a fantastic knack for comedy, reveling in the excess of Belfort’s life and some good physical skills. A sequence where Belfort is so out of his gourd on Qualudes that he has to drag himself, slurring across the floor and down a flight of stairs is a work of genius.
The supporting cast are on fine form, particularly Jonah Hill as one of Belfort’s associates (and I suspect the main reason MWG went to see this movie at the cinema). I’d not seen Hill tackle a role like this before, it’s still broadly a comedy but it’s a bit darker than his usual fair and to be fair he takes to it well, although his fake white teeth are distracting.
The rest of the cast do well too, but it’s DiCaprio’s movie and he dominates it totally.
Scorsese shoots Belfort’s story with an admirable level of moral ambiguity, and the film is never massively judgmental of it’s protagonist, just setting things out as the way they are. I’m sure some audiences will find something appealing in Belfort’s life, but for me the scenes of excess and debauchery grew stale after a while and there was a certain desperation behind the partying.
I think the problem for me is that unlike Goodfellas, the other Scorsese film this reminded me of, Belfort’s motivations are even shakier than Henry Hill’s, who’d drawn into the mob by the glamour and success but finds a real bond and camaraderie with his fellow gangsters, even if this is built on shaky foundations, here Belfort seems to be out for himself from day one and sees everyone, even his supposed friends as stepping stones to his own success.
There’s only one glimpse of decency, where he warns a friend that he’s wearing a wire so they don’t incriminate themselves, but even this is soured by the suspicion that this is just so Belfort can safeguard his future earnings while appearing to cooperate with the law. The gangsters of Goodfellas may have been hypocritical and turned on each other, but there was at least some genuine loyalty to betray, Belfort doesn’t care about anyone else, although he expects others to remain loyal.
All in all it’s an entertaining flick, with lots of black comedy throughout. I did struggle to get over my dislike for the main characters and their greedy actions, but DiCaprio is impressive in the lead and a magnetic presence on screen. Scorsese’s direction is fantastic, but the movie left me cold after the laughter stopped. Although judging by the final scene, where Belfort looks out on a sea of money hungry faces, I suspect this is intentional.
Verdict: Outrageously funny and boasting a fine lead performance from Leonardo DiCaprio, who manages to stop his unlikable character from being utterly loathsome, although I struggled to fully shake my distaste for Belfort and his worldview. Still a strong, engaging movie as you’d expect from Scorsese. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
I was looking forward to watching this movie, because the first one was pretty funny and I’d missed it in the cinema. Luckily MWG was a fan too and she picked this up the other day, although I suspect a crush on one of the leads may have had something to do with it. Unlike many women who find Channing Tatum hot, MWG has a thing for Jonah Hill (one of her five) and so we checked this out the other day.
What I dug about the first movie was the fact that early on they referenced the fact that it was based on an old TV by having a character openly state that they’d run out of ideas so were just doing what they’d done in the ’80s. Here they make lots of sequel jokes, with the same character (played by Nick Offerman) stating that they were to go back undercover this time as college students and do “exactly the same thing”, only with more budget this time. This postmodern touch is done rather well and referenced throughout as the characters have better offices and the set pieces get bigger.
While the joke is a little laboured after a while the movie totally works and a lot of that is down to the two leads, Tatum and Hill, who have amazing chemistry on screen as Jenko and Schmidt respectively. Hill is a fantastic comedy performer and makes the awkward, clumsy Schmidt a likable character but once again Tatum is impressive, showing some fine comedy chops as the dumber, more gung-ho half of the partnership.
Posing as uni students to track down a new drug on the market, this time it’s Jenko who excels, finding a place at a frat and as a football player and quickly establishing a bromance with quarterback and possible suspect Zook (Wyatt Russell).
This leaves Schmidt feeling sidelined and he struggles to fit in, apart from with art student Maya (Amber Stevens) who he hooks up with. Schmidt and Jenko clash and their friendship frays. They clash over how to pursue the case and also
Can they remain friends and crack the case? Has Jenko found somewhere better than the force? And should they really just try and do everything the same as before?
I loved this movie, it’s lovably daft and tongue in cheek, and contains several big laughs. I chuckled and giggled my way through the whole thing and while it’s extremely dumb in places, it remains a solid sequel and a well crafted action comedy.
As I mentioned the leads are sensational and play off each other to great effect. Hill gets some of the best lines, and some of it feels ad-libbed, but Tatum is also shown to be a strong comic performer and his bromance with Zook is well handled, being quite fun. They also manage to make both characters believable, likable and engage the audience in their partnership, and films, even comedies always work best when the audience buys into the characters and Hill and Tatum ensure this is the case here.
The action sequences are well done and manage to keep the balance between action and comedy just right. Not too vicious to sour the laughs, but not too silly to spoil the adrenaline rush. That being said the fight between Schmidt and a female villain is comedy gold.
The supporting cast do a good job too, Nick Offerman’s cameo gets a few laughs and sets out the movie’s tongue in cheek tone. Amber Stevens, who impressed me in the show Greek is a little underused, but still works well with Hill, and Jillian Bell as Maya’s sarky, bitter roommate gets some fantastic insults in.
Peter Stormare seems to have a ball in the kind of role he seems able to do in his sleep, but the strongest supporting player is Ice Cube as Dickson, the heroes’ boss. Playing up the “angry black captain” stereotype once more Ice Cube is hilarious as the foul-mouthed captain, yelling down those in his command and barking out insults. Cube gets some of the film’s biggest laughs and reminds you of how good he can be on his day.
The end credits are quite fun too, continuing the postmodern, mocking tone by including clips and posters for further Jump Street installments, which sees Jenko and Schmidt take on assignments in culinary school, scuba school and several other daft assignments. It goes on a little bit too long, but is worth it just for 29 Jump Street, which sees Hill replaced by Seth Rogen (another of MWG’s five) and I would probably actually pay to watch the spoof movie.
Verdict; Daft and fun, it’s not quite as good as the first but Hill and Tatum continue to work well together and there are plenty of laughs along the way. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
In no real order but these are the movies I’m looking forward to most at the moment, all release dates are the UK ones listed on IMDb.com
1. Django Unchained
I might have been let’s say “underwhelmed” by his last two directorial outings, but a new Quentin Tarantino movie is always going to be cause for excitement in this geek and the signs are good. A pretty impressive cast and a trailer which makes it look like a cool, fun flick that plays with the Western genre conventions and it seems to ooze cool and QT’s patented mix of dark humour, violence and badassery.
Release Date: 18th Jan
2. Iron Man 3
Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark is one of the best pieces of casting in years and just as the first film started the road towards the Avengers movie the building for Avengers 2 starts here, it looks as though they’re going to go a little darker and introducing the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) a powerful villain who should present a fun new challenge. Away from the explosions and fights I’m quite interested to see how they continue to develop the relationship between Tony and Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow)
RD: 26th April
3. World War Z
An adaptation of one of my favourite books of all time and featuring one of my favourite actors, Brad Pitt, this zombie flick looks genuinely impressive and epic in scope. They’ve clearly made changes from the awesome novel, but it still looks well worth a watch.
RD: 21st June
4. Man of Steel
Superman Returns was dire, but this looks like an improvement. Be interesting to see how Zack Snyder deals with having to rein in his trademark OTT, stylized visuals and the casting of Supes’ daddies seems quite inspired- Russell Crowe as Kryptonian papa Jor-El and Kevin Costner as nice guy Jonathan Kent, the man who would shape Kal-El into the protector of truth, justice and the American way.
RD: 14th June
5. This is the End
A fantastic cast of Hollywood funnymen (Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson) play versions of themselves as they try and cope with the Apocalypse, looks like it might be quite a weird and fun movie, and the cast are consistently good value for money.
RD: 28th June
6. The Wolverine
I may have been burned by the clawed mutant’s previous solo outing but Hugh Jackman is awesome as Logan, and the idea of him fighting ninjas in Japan sounds like an awesome premise. Here’s hoping they don’t blunt his claws so much this time.
RD: 26th July
7. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
The follow up to one of my favourite films from last year will see Jennifer Lawrence return as Katniss Everdeen as she takes on new challenges in the dystopian Pan-Em. Keen to see where the story goes, although I’ll probably read the books first.
RD: 22nd Nov
8. Warm Bodies
Nicholas Hoult plays a zombie in an undead future who starts to regain his humanity after falling for one of the uninfected. Saw the trailer last week and it made me laugh and seems like it might be a fun, oddly sweet zom-com.
RD: 8th Feb
9. GI Joe: Retalliation
The Rock and Bruce Willis, ’nuff said.
RD: 27th March
10. The World’s End
Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright and Nick Frost round off their three Cornetto’s trilogy as a group of friends stage a pub crawl as the end of the world looms. The first two flicks from the Pegg-Wright team were belters so I’ve got high hopes for this one.
RD: 14th Aug
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.