The Wolf of Wall Street

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The Wolf of Wall Street (IMDB)

Many column inches have been written about Martin Scorsese’s latest collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio. About its gender politics, about its self-absorbed nature, about its three-hour running time – many of these articles seem to miss the point entirely.

Based on the memoir of lead character Jordan Belfort, The Wolf of Wall Street documents Belfort’s (DiCaprio) rise to inexplicable wealth by selling humongous amounts of penny stocks (relatively worthless shares of small companies) to individuals that cannot really afford the amounts of stocks sold to them by master-salesman Belfort. After capitalising on the everyman, Belfort, Donnie (Jonah Hill) and their gang of ill-educated but highly skilled salesmen setup their own business that quickly descends into a frat house of drugs, alcohol and women.

At no point does the film advocate the actions of its leads, that being said, it also doesn’t necessarily condemn them either. The key to a film such as The Wolf of Wall Street is how much you can sympathise and empathise with the leading characters.

The main criticism has to come from its length – with it being 180 minutes long, it’s an extremely fair criticism. Very few films justify that type of length however that being said, in a film where the backbone is based around excess, it can be argued that it makes thematic sense for the film itself to be excessive.

Whilst a flawed notion, The Wolf of Wall Street justifies this by managing to draw its audience into the world created by Scorsese and DiCaprio. Whilst this is not necessarily a pleasant world to be a part of, it is definitely entertaining for the vast majority of its huge running time.

With the collaboration between Scorsese and DiCaprio now in its fifth film, The Wolf of Wall Street is undoubtedly the most effervescent. Whilst there are aspects shown within the film that are deplorable, the line of depicting and endorsing is handled very deftly. It’s a fantastic achievement to see DiCaprio at the top of his game and having as much fun as he seems during the course of the film – anything with the aforementioned collaboration deserves attention and on the basis of The Wolf of Wall Street, it’s utterly deserved.

12 Years a Slave (2013)

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12 Years A Slave (IMDB)

Director Steve McQueen’s third feature tackles the tough issue of slavery through the eyes of Solomon Northup. Based on the best-selling memoir, 12 Years a Slave shows the horrifying experience of being kidnapped and sold to be a slave during the late 1800’s.

Tackling the slave trade is a bold move for a filmmaker, especially within their third feature, however this is exactly what McQueen has done to a fantastic effect. 12 Years a Slave does not approach its subject lightly. Told from a frank perspective and often viscerally honest with portrayal of violence and treatment of its characters, McQueen finds a fantastic balance between not shying away from its subject, its violence and often hard-to-watch portrayal of human treatment and the beautiful cinematography by Sean Bobbitt, the fantastic script from John Ridley and masterful direction from McQueen.

Following the kidnapping, Solomon is passed around several plantations however the bulk of time is spent at Edwin Epps’ cotton farm. Epps believes that abuse of slaves is written into the bible and runs his plantation accordingly. This results in many scenes of intense reservation from Solomon – portrayed perfectly by Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Ejiofor portrays much of the film in silence, using looks and expressions for Solomon’s feelings to be known. Within one breathtaking sequence, McQueen’s camera holds on Solomon’s face whilst struggling with his sense of self and what the consequences are of following suit with everybody else. The emotion portrayed within the one single look is utterly moving and demonstrates the utter majesty of both Ejiofor’s performance and McQueen’s direction.

The supporting cast is equally as strong as Ejiofor – Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamtti, Brad Pitt, Sarah Poulson all deliver fantastic performances as those in power and keeping Solomon and the other slaves in line – many of whom convey the true revulsion of their actions. However the outstanding supporting performance stems from newcomer Lupita Nyong’o. She plays abused slave Patsy and – equally with Ejiofor – conveys many emotions underneath the thinly veiled looks of disgust and anger at the actions of Fassbender’s Epps.

Throughout, McQueen uses long takes in order to ensure the horror sinks in during various scenes. One particular scene, just as the true horror is shown McQueen makes the stylistic choice to hold the shot for a little longer… and a little longer… and just a little more. This maximises the true horror and effect of the obscene nature of the life during this time period.

Given that the film is adapted from Solomon’s own memoir and is based in the not-too-distant past, its true shock and horror of the human treatment that is the feeling left by the film. McQueen has found an extraordinary balancing act of telling the true story of the obscene actions that took place during the time and a fantastic and utterly transfixing film. 12 Years a Slave will be ranked among a true great.

All Is Lost (2013)

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All is Lost (IMDB)

Written and Directed by Sundance-darling J.C Chandor, All is Lost tells the story of one man located somewhere within the Indian Ocean and chronicles the troubles faced across an eight-day period. With the title being All is Lost, it is safe to assume that this is not the most positive of stories for the leading character with a container colliding with the boat in the opening scene of the film. Following this, he has to contend with the elements and almost every conceivable issue that could arise during such an isolated trip.

Given that the audience is alone with the one nameless man (played by Robert Redford) for the entirety of its running time, to say the film lives or dies on the strength of its lead is an understatement. With such terrific casting and a mesmeric performance by Robert Redford, the fact that he has no other actor (or even inanimate object as in Castaway) is handled with relative ease as each wince, groan or even just the look in his eyes conveys everything required.

The astounding performance by Redford aside, the cinematography conveys the vast plains of emptiness quite magnificently. The film often interludes set pieces with underwater sequences and the visuals are quite stunning during these times. These complement the use of sound during these times. Both aspects of the film enhance the isolation that Redford’s character is feeling and the magnitude of his situation being completely stranded.

Given the astounding technical aspects of the film they add to the narrative weight that Chandor is presenting. In the history of cinema, there have been very few films with one solo performer – especially one as ambitious in its visuals as All is Lost – however Chandor and leading man Redford have made a compelling tale of a man and his struggle to simply stay alive.

To even attempt such a story and let alone pull it off is a fantastic feat of cinema and Redford deserves any praise and accolades on the strength of a magnificent performance.