Warning!! Spoilers ahead!
After watching Martin Scorsese’s (HUGO) latest film, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, I was nearly speechless, not because I didn’t have anything to say, far from it, but because I honestly have no idea what I’m supposed to take away from it. The movie is based on a true story and centers around Jordan Belfort, a brilliant Wall Street stock broker whose only desire is to be rich, and who will do anything to achieve and maintain said riches. After a disappointing start on Wall Street, he goes to work for a penny stocks brokerage company and quickly begins to use his outstanding selling talents to bilk people into buying worthless stocks, all while pocketing a hefty commission. In short order Belfort sets up on his own firm and surrounds himself with a merry band of greedy lowlifes who he trains up to be stock brokers who are just as ruthless and corrupt as he is. History has shown us that it’s not hard to dupe with dollar signs and get rich quick ideas, and before long Belfort’s company “Stratton Oakmont” is raking in millions and millions of greenbacks. So what do Belfort and his comrades spend all their wealth on? Why drugs, hookers, and a lifestyle so lavish that even the FBI start to get curious about the new Wall Street bad boys, and you can probably figure out for yourself what happens from there.
While The Wolf of Wall Street is an entertaining story, particularly if you find excess bordering on lunacy amusing, it doesn’t seem to have a point to it. While its fun to watch Belfort indulge in sexual debauchery, insane drug use, extravagant materialism, and all around corruption, you’re never given any clear moral stance on it, and while most people would certainly say his actions are immoral and illegal, it seems like the film tries to leave it ambiguous. Now I believe the ambiguity is there to force the viewer to challenge his or her own beliefs of right and wrong; after all, Belfort hardly spends anytime in prison and quickly reinvents himself and becomes successful again, raising the question as to whether he really lost that much, financially at least, by being a criminal, and at the end of the film it seems like the main FBI agent is having regrets for not following Belfort’s path himself, however, all of this is handled so lightly that nothing feels forced on you as a viewer, and you’re left feeling a bit bored by the end of the film. One thing I did enjoy about the story was the use of voice over; every so often Belfort or another character would either comment on something going on or they would voice over what they were thinking at a given moment. While Scorsese has used this style before, most notably in GOODFELLAS, he used it far less frequently here but when it came out it added humor and clarity and really helped punch up the story telling.
I’ve been a long time fan of Scorsese and as a director he is second to none, so its no surprise that I have high expectations for his films, and outside of the story, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET more than lives up to them. All the wonderful hallmarks of Scorsese films pop up at some point during the film: the straight down panning ceiling shot, intense close ups, the way he perfectly melds music into the scenes, and the wonderfully creative ways he frames and captures character interactions. On top of all his sleek cinematic skills, he also brought together a fantastic array of outlandish settings, drugs, and other things to emphasize the extreme indulgence of Belfort’s lifestyle. Outrageous mansions, sleek hotel rooms, luxurious yachts, exotic European locales, piles of coke, bottles of Quaaludes, parades of strippers, tossable midgets, and perpetual stacks of cash are just a few of the visual images he uses to drive home the wealth and excess of the Wolf of Wall Street. I could ramble on about how visually enjoyable the film is, but I fear I would only become more and more incomprehensible as I went along so I will simply move on to discussing the cast.
Scorsese has an eye for talent and it often leads to his films having a great ensemble cast, and thankfully that’s the case with The Wolf of Wall Street. Leonardo DiCaprio (DJANGO UNCHAINED) teams with Scorsese for the fifth time to bring Jordan Belfort to the screen, and while I am not sure it is his best performance ever, it is certainly one of his most unique. Earlier this year we saw DiCaprio portray a life of excess in THE GREAT GATSBY, in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET we see a life of excess with intent to distribute, and that small difference is what makes his performance so great. Lack of motor skills, drug addled speech, sexual deviations, and all around reckless behavior, DiCaprio performs them all with an air of supreme arrogance that just screams “Don’t you wish you could be like me?” DiCaprio is every bit the embodiment of greed and excess that was the hallmark of Belfort before his empire came crashing down, and it is a thrill to watch him strut that persona across the screen. Stepping into the role of Donnie Azoff is Jonah Hill (THIS IS THE END), and its the best thing I’ve ever seen him do. Azoff is a drugged out, crazed, moral vacuum that is happy to play the remora to Belfort’s shark, and Hill takes to this role as if he was born to play it. Hill brings in elements from his drama and comedy past and fuses them together into an odd little ball of perfection, giving us a weird, unrelatable character that we couldn’t stop watching if we tried. Margot Robbie (ABOUT TIME) plays Naomi Lapaglia, Belfort’s main love interest and eventual wife, and I was rather impressed with her performance. This was the first film I’ve ever seen Robbie in, and she brings a strength and confidence to the screen that allows her to hold her own against more seasoned actors like DiCaprio; she easily brought Naomi’s sultry heat to life and I look forward to seeing her in more films in the future. A pleasant surprise was seeing Jean Dujardin (THE ARTIST) playing the role of Jean-Jacques Saurel, the sleazy Swiss banker who helps Belfort and friends hide their money. He is a delight as this silver tongued, rarely comprehensible banker for hire, and he certainly steals every scene he’s in. While these are just the cream of the crop, the entire cast does a fantastic job, and all deserve accolades for their wonderful work.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET may not have the most impactful story, but it is still one damn entertaining film. It’s over the top excessiveness keeps you entertained, the directing is phenomenal, and all the actors give top notch performances. If you’re a fan of any member of the cast, or of Martin Scorsese, then you should head out and catch this movie while its in theatres, because this much excess deserves the big screen.
Final Score: 8.5 out of 10