Movie Review: ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’
Plot: The latest film from legendary director Martin Scorsese and based on the true life story of Wall Street mogul Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), The Wolf of Wall Street follows the dramatic rise and eventual fall of one of Wall Street’s most notorious scam artists. Starting from humble middle class beginnings, Belfort founds and builds Stratton Oakmont, a boiler room full of cutthroat stock brokers who stop at nothing to rake in as much money as possible from their clients/victims. Amidst an excess of booze, drugs, hookers, and of course money, The Wolf of Wall Street highlights some of the most audacious parts of the late 80s and 90s stock industry.
Review: Part Goodfellas and part Wall Street, The Wolf of Wall Street is another amazing achievement from one of the greatest directors ever to grace Hollywood. Frenetic, passionate, and excessive almost to a fault, The Wolf of Wall Street takes a moment in time and emerges the audience in its cocaine, sex, and money hungry madness. Quite literally a three-hour party, Scorsese’s film flies by and leaves one exhausted. In fact in many ways that’s the point of the film. We experience the film for a mere three hours, but the people in the film lived this life for YEARS. Wolf characterizes how draining that type of life can be.
In point of fact, much of criticism of The Wolf of Wall Street stems from people believing this film “celebrates” this kind of lifestyle. In my opinion nothing could be further from the truth. If anything it’s the complete opposite. The Wolf of Wall Street is a cautionary tale that epitomizes how ultimately this lifestyle is empty and without meaning. To paraphrase Gordon Gekko, “Greed is NOT good.” When greed becomes your obsession, your life becomes bereft of meaning. Consequently, Belfort tries to fill that void with drugs, hookers, more money, and ludicrous forms of entertainment such as midget tossing and shaving his secretary’s head to pay for a boob job. Belfort’s bachelor party alone involved a private jet to Las Vegas replete with fifty hookers and enough cocaine to make Keith Richards cringe. When ordinary distractions become mundane, only depraved and outrageous distractions can compensate.
Just like any successful sports team you need talent to excel and The Wolf of Wall Street has it in spades. From the always superb direction of Scorsese, to the flawless script by Terence Winter, to its strong supporting cast, the movie delivers at multiple levels. What blew me away was despite the length of the film (just under three hours) it seemed to be over in twenty minutes. Credit that to the dead on pacing of Scorsese and the even better editing job of Thelma Schoonmaker. The sequence where Stratton Oakmont evolves from squalid ex-autoparts store to posh and stylish headquarters is particularly impressive. It’s a travesty Schoonmaker wasn’t nominated for an Oscar.
In many ways The Wolf of Wall Street is a companion piece to Scorsese’s earlier work, Goodfellas. Both characters break the fourth wall and talk directly to the camera several times. However, whereas Goodfellas follows the real criminal gangster life of Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill, The Wolf ofWall Street follows the white-collar crime of Jordan Belfort. Yet if you watch Wolf from the context of Goodfellas, Scorsese is obviously asking the question: Isn’t Belfort just as bad as Hill? Isn’t he equally a gangster just in a different manner? I think the answer is yes. At one point I’m going to have to watch those films back to back. I think it’d make for an interesting film dissection.
The ensemble cast in The Wolf of Wall Street is fantastic. Jonah Hill’s performance far exceeds his Academy Award nominated role in Moneyball. His portrayal of Belfort’s right hand man Donnie Azoff is delightful slimy. Azoff, (based off of Belfort’s real life partner in crime Donnie Porush) with his pearly white oversized teeth, fetish for multiple hookers, and love of Quaaludes is the sidekick you love to hate. Hill steals virtually every scene he’s in and provides brilliant moments of dark comedy. The part where he eats an underling’s goldfish on an important stock release day was particularly hysterical.
Newcomer Margot Robbie excels as Belfort’s crazy and crazy-hot wife Naomi. Naomi, despite her volatility is also a much more complex character than you might expect. She’s an enabler of Belfort’s addictions but she’s also used to a particular lifestyle. Naomi is a caring mother to her children and wants their father to set a good example. However, Naomi also bangs Jordan literally on a bed full of money and is willing to do whatever it takes to hide his misbegotten gains. Robbie’s Naomi comes across as a character you can’t quite pin down, someone you like and hate at the same time.
Rob Reiner also adds his own dash of madcap hilarity as the volatile “Mad” Max, Belfort’s father. Max is one of those guys in your life you love to get riled up just because he’s so damn funny to laugh at. Even Academy Award winning actor Jean Dujardin had a small but vital part as a vile little Swiss banker. The subtext of the initial meeting between DiCaprio and Dujardin is nothing short of brilliant.
As much as I loved What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Blood Diamond, and The Aviator, this is the performance of DiCaprio’s lifetime. I can’t oversell how fantastic he was in The Wolf of Wall Street. Whether it’s a darkly funny moment like a delayed Quaalude reaction at the local country club or a heavily nuanced scene where Belfort wears a wire for the Feds in Donnie’s company, DiCaprio is consistently at the top of his game throughout the film. If it wasn’t for Chiwetel Ejiofor and Matthew McConaughey this year, I’d say he’d be in a shoe-in for the Best Actor Oscar. Either way I’m going to be rooting for him.
A scathing expose of stock market depravity, a cautionary tale, a dark comedy for the ages, and just a damn fine piece of filmmaking, The Wolf of Wall Street succeeds on every level. It’s one of Scorsese’s best and a film that almost demands repeated viewings. The Wolf of Wall Street is a film that will leave fans of the genre, and the director, howling for years to come.