Rated R for sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language throughout, and for some violence
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler, Jean Dujardin, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, and Matthew McConaughey
Written By: Terrence Winter (based on the book by Jordan Belfort)
Directed By: Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese is among an elite group of master filmmakers who could make a three hour, non plot driven film this engrossing from beginning to end. Could The Wolf of Wall Street shave 1/2 an hour off its runtime? Sure – but at this point in Scorsese’s career he’s earned every minute of the story he wishes to tell. The story in question is a character driven tale of excess, decadence and debauchery focusing on a group of morally corrupt men whose only values in life are sex, drugs and money. The film doesn’t condone their behavior but it doesn’t exactly condemn it either. It merely presents a true to life depiction of the lifestyles of the rich and faithless and it’s up to the audience to decide if you envy them or deplore them. Most likely it’s a bit of both. The Wolf of Wall Street is an immensely entertaining and utterly enjoyable showcase of Wall Street’s warped American dream.
Based on the autobiography by Jordan Belfort, Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Belfort, a man of humble beginnings whose ego and ruthlessness would drive him to becoming a multimillionaire before the age of 30. Belfort made his fortune by conning his clients out of their stock investments – then using their money to live a wild life beyond necessity and without reason. Curiously, the movie pays virtually no attention to the plight of his victims, many of whom’s life savings were taken and donated towards Belforts yachts, mansions – not to mention hookers, cocaine and $40,000 dinners. And perhaps it’s because we never see the harms which Belfort caused his victims and their families that we don’t revile him as much as we should.
Plot points focus on the FBI’s investigation into Belfort’s company, with a task force led by Agent Denham (Kyle Chandler). Alpha males Belfort and Denham get into a battle of the egos as Denham knows that Belfort is engaging in illegal activity – he just can’t prove it. Belfort doesn’t so much deny his indiscretions as much as he smugly revels in the fact that he’s able to outwit the feds. But that’s mostly the B-story, most of the film is focused on the depraved behavior of the characters and the different types of people who make up Belfort’s cohorts – as well as his tumultuous relationship with his gold-digging wife Naomi (Margot Robbie).
DiCaprio proves yet again to be one of the best actors of his generation and hooking up with Scorsese (this is their fifth collaboration together) is the best thing that could have happened for him career wise. As Belfort, DiCaprio commands the screen – both charming and sleazy with equal measure, a guy who isn’t exactly likable but not altogether hatable either. This is a much more comedic performance than we’re used to seeing from the dramatic actor with plenty of scenes featuring him high as a kite and played for laughs. One notable scene in particular features Belfort overdosing on quaaludes which leads to DiCaprio performing a physical comedy routine befitting of Jim Carrey.
Comedic actor Jonah Hill displays a new facet to his onscreen persona – he’s still very funny but has created a full fledged character as opposed to playing an eccentric version of himself. As Belfort’s righthand man Donnie Azoff, Hill sports oversized fake teeth and a Brooklyn accent to help create one of the slimiest screen characters in quite some time. Hill is able to hold his own against the forceful performance of DiCaprio, quite often stealing scenes. If the actor was able to pull a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Moneyball, then he’s certainly even more worthy of one here.
The Wolf of Wall Street probably isn’t among Scorsese’s best films, but that’s only because his resume is so strong. Stylistically, this is the closest he’s come to recreating Goodfellas – this could be a cousin to that movie, but minus the violence and plus a whole lot of sex and drugs. That’s not to say that this is his best movie since Goodfellas – it isn’t nearly as strong as The Departed, Gangs of New York or Casino – but if any other handful of lesser but still notable filmmaker’s had made this, it would probably be among their strongest work. Taxi Driver and Raging Bull exist in a different era of filmmaking for the auteur, not easily comparable or measurable to this film and so I’ll refrain from doing so.
The 71-year-old Scorsese is still at the top of his game having crafted a film with a zest and energy that puts his younger counterparts to shame. You’ll have such a good time watching The Wolf of Wall Street that it’s not until afterwards when you’ll realize you should probably feel guilty about it – but that’s kind of the point. As an audience we’ve been suckered along with Belfort’s stooges into buying into his nonsense because we’ve become captivated by an enthralling picture and a pretty fantastic piece of filmmaking. What would Jake LaMotta, another morally bankrupt character among Scorsese’s oeuvre, recite after watching The Wolf of Wall Street?… “That’s entertainment.”