Scorsese’s latest film may be brash, sexist, drug-addled and reckless – but don’t hold that against it
Scene one: a raucous office party culminates in a midget-throwing competition. Scene two: Leonardo DiCaprio blows cocaine into a prostitute’s arse. We couldn’t be further away from Martin Scorsese’s last film Hugo, a gentle, whimsical paean to early cinema’s Georges Méliès. Eventually cut to under three hours after a tortuous development process marked by funding problems, this film about excess examines why the stock market went wrong.
It turns out, it went wrong in a haze of orgies, yachts and cocaine. DiCaprio looks as if he was born to play the slick, charming and morally repulsive stockbroker Jordan Belfort, on whose memoir the film is based. Gross-out comedy star Jonah Hill’s slapstick talents work surprisingly well alongside the acting heavyweight as his fun-loving business partner Donnie Azoff. The duo swing from frenzied “Greed is good” speeches reminiscent of Oliver Stone’s Gordon Gekko to the drug-crazed antics of 80’s stoners Bill & Ted, including a memorable scene where they writhe around in a Quaalude-induced stupor.
The supporting cast go to town on the “sleazy banker” roles: Jean Dujardin is deliciously seedy as a corrupt Swiss banker, and Matthew McConaughey delivers a seven-minute performance of borderline-insane virile overload. In this testosterone-fuelled world, female characters are confined to the binary roles of “hot babe” and “nagging wife”, occasionally combining the two functions.
Vodka martini with a dash of bitters… Blanchett’s tour de force as brittle, flawed Jasmine is a tragicomic delight
Ah, the Woody Allen comeback: we get a new one every year. He’s back on form, the crowds cry. It’s his best since Hannah and her Sisters, critics declaim. It invariably isn’t. But there’s always the hope that this time, maybe, it’ll be different.
And this time it is. Woody has finally abandoned his InterRailing holiday and rose-tinted view of Europe and returned to the US. But instead of the usual grey Manhattan, we meet Jasmine as she’s flying over to golden San Francisco.
Cate Blanchett, a first-time collaborator for Allen, plays Jasmine, who is recovering from the arrest and suicide of her Bernie Madoff-like property tycoon husband Hal (Alec Baldwin in an inspired bit of casting). Jasmine has to join her adopted sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in her New Age flat, alongside Ginger’s muscular salt-of-the-earth boyfriend Chili wearing Brando-esque wife beaters.
It’s a bravura performance from Blanchett, veering effortlessly from deliciously awful Upper East Side snob to distraught grieving widow. She’s got the mannerisms and voice modulations, but she’s also got the gravitas. As her carefully-constructed delusions come crashing down around her, we simultaneously laugh at her and pity her.
There are some problems: Woody Allen evidently hasn’t met a working class person since 1975, and the portrayal of mental illness as comedy is not unproblematic. But the one-liners (“Who do I have to sleep with around here to get a Stoli martini with a twist of lemon?”) and Blanchett’s tragicomic turn make this one of Allen’s finest in a long time.