Another Nicholas Pileggi literary work (after 1990’s Goodfellas) sees another tremendous translation onto the screen by Martin Scorsese, a near-perpetually period-music scored narrative that charts with all the grandeur and lyricism of Grecian tragedy the rise and descent of Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein (based on real-life sports handicapper Frank Rosenthal).
No doubt Scorsese’s latest – The Wolf of Wall Street – has introduced an entirely new generation to the surgical precision and sheer breadth of scale of his film-making, and indeed, viewing the two side by side allows for the clear demarcation of the various attributes that define his oeuvre. Both share a commanding singular performance, a central character whose aspirations run from an insatiable (and self-centered) desire to succeed (and inevitably overreach) to seemingly contradictory everyman ideals – having a wife, starting a family. Although these extraordinary men discover that fame and wealth and all the temptations that pour forth don’t particularly sit well with the simple things lesser mortals enjoy, and ultimately experience Icarusian plummets back to Earth.
Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci are on fine form here. Their mob-patter – as ever – a delight to listen to and watch being performed like master musicians reciting a concerto, but it’s Sharon Stone, who followed her breakthrough role as Catherine Tramell in Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct in 1992 with a string of Razzie-commended performances, that shines here. Her Ginger McKenna is a dangerously unstable individual, addicted to pills and booze, pathologically intoxicated by money and trinkets at the expense of her husband Ace, her own health – even her own daughter, whom in one scene, we discover, Ginger has tied to her bed so she can sneak out and party unimpeded. But there’s also a tragedy in her resolute loyalty to her pimp Lester Diamond (played with catering-sized amounts of sleaze by James Woods), a man who holds an unholy sway over her, a plot point that allows Stone to, amazingly, work in vulnerability to her unrestrained performance.
Words: Ash Verjee