Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo Dicaprio, Margot Robbie, Jonah Hill, Rob Riener
This is a movie that just somehow had me in the trailers. Sure, I have a soft spot for Martin Scorsese; the true artisan style of filmmaking that he still utilizes and his unique sense of style are addictive, but I’m not blinded by his previous films. Not ever Scorsese is a good one and even some of the better ones don’t interest me. Somehow though this film looked fascinating and it seemed like a pallet cleanser from the hipster filmmaking that has owned this genre for some time.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort, a young man determined to be a millionaire at any cost, literally. He finds his way into Stock brokering working for a successful Wall street broker played by Mathew McConaughey. McConaughhey is only briefly in the film and that’s truly unfortunate because in just a scant few scenes he becomes fascinating. It’s no wonder McConaughey is featured prominently in the trailers. His character is perfect for marketing because he’s somewhat weird, mysterious, and hilarious and he, in the end, has little to do with the real story so there are no spoilers related to his scenes. At any rate Belfort finally gets his shot at the big league of trading on of course, Black Friday. So this is the first of a few times that Belfort is forced to reinvent himself starting with nothing but his wit and determination.
Belfort grew up on the streets and learned at a young age that bending the law here and there was enough to get him what he wanted and he unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your opinion, managed to utilize that philosophy to make himself and his eventual business partners into very wealthy men. Belfort sort of succumbs to the greed and success that surrounded him in the early days of his career. He started out just trying to be successful and ended up being greedy beyond repentance. His partners, led by Jonah Hill were also sucked into this world of having everything you could want plus more. DiCaprio delivers one of his best ever performances here and his absolute best turn in a Scorsese film. He channels Alec Baldwin’s Blake from Glengarry Glen Ross when he rallies his team to sell stocks. Belfort doesn’t quite hit Blake’s level of iconography because Blake did what Belfort does with a third as many words but more power. That doesn’t take away from DiCaprio’s charisma in these speeches. There’s one time when he breaks down in front of his team and you very nearly want to shed a tear with him which makes you feel guilty because these people are basically a bunch of criminals.
Belfort is a driven character and when he’s put under the gun by the FBI he becomes even more determined to win, to even beat the United States government. Perhaps Belfort’s only mistake is the company he keeps because his partners just aren’t as quic witted as he is and as you might guess mistakes are made. That doesn’t reveal anything because the film telegraphs the ending of the story early on, there’s really only one way the story can go. With that said there are surprise twists throughout. The biggest problem with the film comes in a disturbing tonal shift. Up to a point, literally to the last act, Belfort comes off as sort of a lovable criminal but he does something in the third act that takes the game to a new level and it turned me off to him completely which deflated the final moment of the film just a little. This is a minor complaint overall about a film that has everything we love from a Scorsese film from his cinematic slickness to his mix of crime and comedy, it’s all here and it’s fantastically entertaining. The movie is about greed and about self-indulgence and the length and style of the film are fairly representative of a bit of self-indulgence on Scorcese’s part. The runtime is right at three hours! The first cut of this film was rated NC-17 and it’s no wonder considering just how much language and nudity there is in the trimmed back R rated version. It’s all gratuitous but the fact that it’s gratuitous completely serves the story. When you have the personality that Belfort and his cohorts had and the near limitless money they had, what’s on screen is literally how they chose to live. Sure the movie is too long but in that regard I can’t think of one chunky space that could be cut out. The only way to have made the film shorter would have been to trim many many scenes just a little here and there and that may have taken away from the truly glutenous feel of the film which as I said serves the story and characters.
The Wolf of Wall Street is a truly beautifully shot and edited film for 95% of the runtime. Nearly that much of the movie was shot on film. A small portion of the film was shot digitally for some reason, maybe for time or for budget. Whatever the reason, the digital scenes just don’t stand up to those shot on film, they just look sort of clunky and video-ish. Scorsese has worked on digital before, these scenes just feel rushed. With that said there are a few scenes in this movie that are the most beautifully shot of any film this year and not only are they eye candy but they serve a dramatic and emotional element to the story. The script for this film was written by Terence Winter, someone who knows how to write crime drama having written some episodes of The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire. He had an autobiography from the real Jordon Belfort as source material too. Yes this is loosely based on real events. There are few directors that are as vibrant, edgy, and creative as Martin Scorcese continues to be at 71 years of age. The Wolf of Wall Street is hilarious, gritty, and fast paced for a three hour film; it’s a must see in theaters.