The short review: Certainly the least family-friendly of this season’s holiday offerings, Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street pulls no punches as it takes us on a boozy, drugged out, adrenaline-fueled trip into the bowels of Wall Street excess.
The long review: It is uncanny that at age 71, Martin Scorsese remains as sharp and savvy a filmmaker as ever, presenting a modern fable of excess, evil, and extreme behaviors with more real world relevance than half the offerings at the box office this year. Much like the world he’s created, his characters are colorful. What they say and do may be about as blue as one can get this side of an NC-17 rating, but few can render overindulgence with as deft a hand as Scorsese, and believe me when I say he isn’t painting a rosy picture of their increasingly irresponsible antics. Viewers may recognize bits and pieces of past classics like Casino and Goodfellas in The Wolf of Wall Street‘s DNA, but make no mistake, it is very much its own beast.
Whether they agreed to it at one of their secret Illuminati meetings or not, Hollywood in 2013 seemed to be about putting the American Dream under a microscope and then punching the petri dish into thousands of tiny, broken shards. From The Bling Ring to Spring Breakers to The Wolf of Wall Street and beyond, filmmakers seem to be latching on to this sense that America is slipping from its seat of power and what we put up on a pedestal might, in fact, be a false idol. In The Wolf of Wall Street, Scorsese aims to indict the sort of scummy, predatory capitalist culture that plunged our country into economic downturn while making us care about this lovable group of assholes he’s assembled, even when what they’re doing is utterly reprehensible. There’s plenty of winks and nods to the camera and even more fourth-wall-breaking, but somehow it all works. It’s no small feat.
Based on the memoirs of real life white collar criminal Jordan Belfort (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), who defrauded investors of more than $110 million through stock manipulation and running a penny stock boiler room, the film follows Belfort’s rise from down-on-his-luck stock broker to multi-million dollar money mogul as he learns high-pressure selling tactics and applies them to the less-than-legal world of shorting penny stocks, which are essentially junk that he forces down the throats of unsuspecting clients. With his eyes on the prize, Belfort founds his very own firm, Stratton Oakmont, with his partner-in-crime Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) and a gang of slack-jawed fuck-ups from Long Island that Belfort manages to mold into master salesmen. What follows is a drug-addled, booze-soaked descent into the abyss, like Dante’s Inferno but douchier, that takes us through the rise and fall of an exploitative empire.
Although the film is full of wild, increasingly over-the-top characters (shout out to Jon Bernthal’s tremendously entertaining Brad), the anchor of this mega-yacht is Leonardo Dicaprio’s Jordan Belfort. As Belfort, DiCaprio is a manic, unhinged lightning rod. Thanks to a brief but memorable lesson imparted to him by veteran stockbroker Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), Belfort is able to metamorphose from doe-eyed greenhorn to penny stock huckster to an outsized leader of men (manchildren, really) with a cult of personality and a drug problem to match. Who knew that DiCaprio was such an incredible physical comedian? Did you? Did you? Regardless, DiCaprio brings a relentless, lanky charisma to the role. Many actors can play a self-absorbed, hubristic, overindulgent asshole, but DiCaprio’s portrayal of Belfort remains dynamic, compelling, and complex for the duration of the film’s mammoth 3 hour run time.
Jonah Hill, Kyle Chandler, Margot Robbie, Rob Reiner, P.J. Byrne… I could go on all day, because the cast is pitch perfect. Don’t let the film’s daunting length dissuade you. This is the tale of excess and emptiness that The Great Gatsby should have been. This is a role that DiCaprio was born to play, and Scorsese directs the hell out of this film. The stock market may be volatile and unpredictable, but when it comes to seeing The Wolf of Wall Street, it’s a surefire bet.
The Wolf of Wall Street is in theaters everywhere. What did you think of the film? Let us know in the comments below.