Film Reviews

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) – Blu-ray Review

New from Arrow Video is an offering of 2013’s Martin Scorsese film The Wolf of Wall Street, getting at the same time its first 4K UHD release. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the real-life entrepreneur and convicted fraudster Jordan Belfort, the movie also features a star-making turn from Margot Robbie as his second wife, Naomi, as well as Jonah Hill as associate Donnie Azoff, Kyle Chandler as FBI Agent Patrick Denham, and Rob Reiner, as Jordan’s father, Max.

With the main story picking up in 1987, Jordan takes a job on Wall Street, working for experienced stockbroker Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey). Between then and the same year’s Black Monday – where stocks experience the largest one-day drop in history, he sees himself drawn into the debauched lifestyle of the profession, indulging himself in drugs, alcohol, and women, losing an early marriage in the process.

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After making his name aggressively selling penny stocks, he invests the resultant fortune founding his own company with Donnie and several of their mutual friends. Through misleading statements, they inflate the price of shares in order to sell at an increased, artificial price, leading to those conned left with stock that is relatively worthless, in a scheme known as ‘pump and dump’. As he slides into a lifestyle of sex workers and cocaine, his second marriage comes under strain, as the FBI begin to investigate his company, Stratton Oakmont

By 1993, Jordan is making over $20 million dollars in a day with his activities, garnering further interest from law enforcement agencies. To hide the money, he opens a Swiss bank account in the name of Naomi’s Aunt, Emma (Joanna Lumley), a British citizen outside of the purview of American authorities, while he uses his wife and other friends to smuggle the cash. With not every associate proving dependable, and Emma losing her life before the scheme is complete, Jordan’s plans fall apart around him, leaving his marriage, health, and wealth in tatters by the end of the 1990s.

This is a film focusing on high finance and fraud but carrying many of the traits common to Scorsese’s gangster films. This is not a surprise, given that the screenwriter, Terence Winter, is both the creator of Boardwalk Empire, the Steve Buscemi-starring 1920s gangster show, and was both a writer and director on The Sopranos. He talks openly of the influence on his work of Goodfellas and Taxi Driver, and he has crafted a funny, engaging work perfectly suited to the director’s high energy, fourth-wall-breaking style. In a world still suffering from the after-effects of the 2008 banking crisis, and the years of austerity that followed, leaving wealth ever more concentrated in the hands of the privileged few, The Wolf of Wall Street remains a relevant work that is a joy to watch, even at its slightly bloated three-hour length.

Extras kick-off with an introduction by Ian Christie. At a little over 15 minutes, this is a fairly standard talking head. Ian speaks about how unexpected the film was, and how no one knew what to expect from it. He discusses how it fits in with the themes of Scorsese’s career. He is good value as he discusses the ongoing debate regarding his female characters, and he uses Sharon Stone in Casino as a defence, though accepting women aren’t usually at the centre of things. He parallels Stone’s character meeting with De Niro’s with Robbie and Leo, and he covers a lot of ground in 15 minutes, including design and pacing. A decent introduction.

Disc one also has a commentary from Glenn Kenny and Nick Pinkerton. Kenny introduces himself – he writes film reviews for the NY Times, and he wrote ‘Made Men; The Story of Goodfellas’. Nick Pinkerton is his friend and just tells us that he writes about films for a living. Glenn is very much the lead on this talk track. Unfortunately, there are subtitles for the film only, with the talk track presented in Dolby Digital (the film in DTS English only). They give the background that De Niro and Scorsese never saw themselves as a team, with each collaboration occurring for a different reason. In many cases with Scorsese and Leo, DiCaprio brought the product to the director.

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The track itself is quite dry, until one of them suddenly has a funny 1980s drug story about operating heavy machinery on quaaludes! They discuss some similar works – The Big Short, Wall St, Bob Fosse’s work, they include references to Bond, and they even cover Belfort’s style using ‘respect the cock’ scene from Magnolia. It focuses mainly on the film, explaining technically how the quaaludes scene was done, and they speak well about Scorsese’s approach, contextualising it to his career as a whole. They have plenty to say about Belfort’s character and how it is presented, plus the camera work and its changes as we go along. It is a good if unremarkable experience. This is rounded off with two theatrical trailers.

Disc two features a brand-new interview with screenwriter Terence Winter, which at 15 minutes, was recorded this year. He was working on Boardwalk Empire at the same time as this, as the film was meant for a 2008 release to start with. Recorded remotely, it plays over footage from the film. He describes trying to work on both projects and was only on-set twice as a result of the workload. We learn that Leo talking to camera was his idea, with Scorsese agreeing, as he saw it as a companion piece to Goodfellas and Casino, which both have a similar style. We are told that Taxi Driver was his original inspiration to be a writer in the film business. He did his due diligence, having conversations with Jordan and the FBI agent (who told him that all of Jordan’s book is true). He saw them through the prism of being gangsters and had vision clear enough to get most of it right on the first draft.

This is followed by a brand-new interview with production designer Bob Shaw. At a little under 12 minutes, this was also filmed this year and recorded remotely. Shaw also worked on Boardwalk Empire. He stresses his attempt to work collaboratively, and to reflect the collective vision. He takes us through the thinking behind a number of the sets. This is interesting stuff in the details as to why there were certain touches and trying to reflect the different eras the film covers without evoking satire. He scouted Bernie Madoff’s office for example, with a stress on visiting real locations.

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‘Wall Street After Hours’ is a brand-new visual essay by film critic Simon Ward on the dark humour of Martin Scorsese, and also runs to 12 minutes. This attempts to parallel the film with After Hours – the other pure Scorsese comedy, in Simon’s opinion. This is a flawed assessment, as although he notes comedic elements in other films, it is a bit of a stretch to call this film a pure comedy or set it apart from The Departed, Goodfellas, The King of Comedy etc. It is also a bit dry.

‘Planet Hollywolf’ is a new visual essay by film critics Matty Budrewicz and Dave Wain on Jordan Belfort’s lesser-known career as a low budget movie producer, and it runs to 28 minutes. It is a light and playful look at his attempt to get into low budget films (between 1995-96) before his arrest. The creators give their background. Belfort invested $10 million to fund eight movies. Films such as Firestorm about a jazz musician sent to assist an android uprising – which came in too short and had to use sets from another film to improvise some extra scenes. There were former Cannon films bigwigs involved – which says a lot about the quality expectations, and described as a moderately engaging piece of nonsense.

Chase Moran (assault on Dome 4) – Die Hard on a space station (starring Bruce Campbell) is covered, with plenty of laughs at the terrible dialogue: though they are kind to the fun elements and performances. These are little bottle reviews noting where they are well shot. The extra outstays its welcome at nearly half an hour, as it is a lot of films and the central hook that they are low budget nonsense is made very quickly. The Secret Agent Club, Santa with Muscles – a notorious Hulk Hogan flop. Skeletons, and The Elevator are also covered.

Then we get into the features common to previous releases. ‘The Wolf Pack;’ is a 17-minute archival featurette exploring Martin Scorsese’s take on the story and the characters involved. As the film is not that old, these are all in HD. Leo is interviewed on why Scorsese, Jonah, and Rob Reiner on why he was an excellent choice, and then the some of it is Marty on the film – to camera- mixed with shots from the film. They were all attracted by the honestly of the memoir. Terrence Winter and other key players, such as producers, Jon Favreau, Robbie etc, interject with thoughts. It is about Marty’s talent and style more than anything else, along with his attraction to extreme characters and the freedom he had to make the film he wanted to make. There is a stress on on-set improvisation.

‘Running Wild’ is an archival featurette taking a closer look at the filmmaking process and key creative team, running to 11 minutes. This is comprised largely of behind-the-scenes footage, intercut with the same interview sessions as the previous feature. It is fine – a very standard featurette, focusing on the amorality of the characters. ‘The Wolf of Wall Street Roundtable’ is an archival featurette with director Martin Scorsese, writer Terence Winter and stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill in conversation. This is a very similar featurette to a Netflix feature on The Irishman, down to there being four people involved. Again, this stresses the improvisation, and a lack of adherence to a strict plot structure. There are too many cut aways to scenes, meaning it feels scant. It could have done with a full, uninterrupted hour of the four of them, rather than the 11 minutes we got. It is fair value for what is there though.

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Then we have ‘Behind the Scenes’, documentary footage shot during filming. At 11 minutes, it does exactly what it says on the tin. It is literally just footage on filming, nothing else. Then we have 2 minutes of TV spots – three promotional spots, featuring portions of scenes. The set is rounded off with and image gallery, featuring over sixty photos, mostly from the shoot, with little promotional material.

Although there are many features here, with a majority being new, few of them seem essential. It is mainly talking heads, a dry commentary, and not nearly enough from Martin Scorsese himself. This is a fine release, for a terrific film, but there is not enough here to recommend double-dipping for anyone already owning a copy of The Wolf of Wall Street. For those not in possession of the film, there are enough insights to complement an excellent transfer to allow us to suggest this is worth a look.

The Wolf of Wall Street is out now on Blu-ray and 4k UHD from Arrow Video.

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