I’ll get right to the point; The Wolf of Wall Street is rank, vile, debaucherous, amoral and a host of other things. An exercise in excess as it tours for 3 hours through the memoirs of the titular Wolf and all around terrible human being Jordan Belfort(Leonardo DiCaprio). While the latest film from famed director Martin Scorsese does eventually numb the audience to these ills, that was kind of the point managing to make one of the better 3 hour films I can remember.
To say that director Martin Scorsese made GoodFellas but with stockbrokers would be logical but a bit too easy. As terrible as Henry Hill and his friends were, they still had masters and smidge of Catholic guilt to keep them in line. There is a romanticism to the friendship and lives of Hill, Conway, and DeVito. No such endearment can be found for the lives of Belfort and his cad broker friends. Every last one of them operates on narcissism, greed, and lust for more hookers and blow, of which this film has plenty.
Scorsese rightfully keeps moral condemnation of Belfort out of his frame, like howZero Dark Thirty simply made torture a fact of the job. Wolf is amoral because the inhabitants are amoral, they may have had something resembling morality at one point, even Kyle Chandler as FBI Agent Patrick Denham isn’t made out to be a morally righteous individual. Belfort’s P.I. calls him a boy scout but what does that even mean in that world? There is no moral retribution for any of the stock brokers in this film for the crimes committed; Wall Street is its own little world where you must sell something that has no value at the highest possible value. How on earth would a place like prison be a bad thing for Jordan Belfort? The lack of morality does give you, the audience, plenty of leeways to judge or not judge these characters themselves with whatever gradient you wish.
The Wolf of Wall Street also stands as one of the hardest ‘R’ ratings I’ve ever seen in a theater. Scorsese apparently had to leave some of sexual kink on the floor in order to obtain an ‘R’ and not a ‘NC-17’. Not that this film is lacking in sexuality at all, full frontal nudity both male and female abound in this film (I saw more of Jonah Hill than I ever wanted to). The nudity alone would’ve made this an R, so Scorsese unleashes a torrent of curse words as well, never achieving the same verbal gymnastics as say Deadwood but there are more than enough zingers. Given the run time it must have surpassed GoodFellas for most F-Bombs in a theatrical film. The salty language is just part of Wall Street. Finally, there is the drug use, in the opening minutes of Wolf Belfort goes over his daily regiment of narcotics, enough to medicate Long Island for a month he claims. Copious drug use dosen’t do the film justice it hardly goes a minute without someone snorting, sniffing, licking, or popping something. Excessive yes, but that’s what this film is all about.
O how the drug use and debauchery is made to look so beautiful. Slow-motion sequences as DiCaprio or Hill are high on Quaaludes see beer slop out of a glass, down to the party below. Or how everyone seems to own several hundred kilos of cocaine. Drug use was a fact of life in this film so you might as well get a laugh out of it.
Running a minute under 3 hours (making it Scorsese longest film), I am amazed at how little the film seemed to drag. By no means is this film a streamlined plot driven film but as a series of related sketches it works. There are several scenes that go on a minute or five too long, just reiterating the same point for the hundredth time: these guys are a bunch of douche bag, inhuman addicts. But within those scenes you can see why Scorses and long time editor Thelma Schoonmacher kept the scene going. There was a lot of improve on set making it hard for Schoonmacher to edit, you can see how she has to constantly reset to a flat medium shot to tie it all together, it isn’t that noticeable if you aren’t looking. What is on screen is absolutely fucking hilarious. The Wolf of Wall Street may not be laugh for laugh with The Worlds End but it has one of the best bouts of physical comedy I’ve ever seen, coming from the normally serious Leonardo DiCaprio.
In a film about the opulence, excess, and greed of a man and profession you have to give into them a little bit (how else do you get to 3 hours). Surprisingly it is the late game yacht sequence that really makes this film feel like Scorsese was giving into excess and putting a spectacular looking SFX sequence in his film because he simply could. The sequence is a necessity for the plot but you could of easily saved a couple million on it. It is however a perfect example of how all the hookers, blow, and language numb the audience to the characters. By no means does the film want you to care about them but certainly not hate them right away. By that point I’d gotten a little numb to it all, not to the point of boredom, there is simply too much insanity on screen to be bored, but past the point where the point had originally made and then some.
Anchoring this film is Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort. The normally serious actor gives one of his best overall and comedic performances of his career. As the slaver Calvin Candie, DiCaprio found an eccentric but evil tone; here he is shit grinning magnetic cockroach who always seems to make it out alive. At least Candie had terrible misplaced convictions about something; Belfort only cares for more money. DiCaprio isn’t alone with a large cast of recognizable actors supporting him, many of whom based on their star power you would expect more of. Actress Margot Robbie really surprised me, giving more than the typical trophy wife performance; she can really act and hang with some heavyweights. Jonah Hill gives a good performance as best friend and partner Donniz Azoff, getting lost a little bit as the film goes on but stands next to his performance in Moneyball as proof Hill can act.
A thousand words and I’ve barley talked about The Wolf of Wall Street on a plot level. It isn’t that there isn’t a plot but it really does functions more as a series of sketches of the life and times of Jordan Belfort than a propulsive plot film. Talking about some of these sequences beyond what has been shown in marketing material would ruin some excellent comedic moments and honestly not make all that much sense.
Martin Scorses gives into the same excessive tendencies he skewers Belfort and his crew of useless workers for but manages to make something of worth out of it: one of this year’s funniest films and a nice two fingered salute to the men who ruined the economy in 2008. Anchored with several good to great performances and some beautiful sequences, The Wolf of Wall Street is worth seeing in theaters, if only to see how many people give in and walk out. My theater had 7 (a couple and a family with two children age 10ish).