“Money is the oxygen of capitalism and I wanna breathe more than any other human being alive.”
Money. Suits. Jewelry. Cars. Houses. Yachts. Hookers. Booze. Blow. Pot. Pills. In director Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf Of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort has it all, but he wants more. And it all circles back around to what Belfort call’s the greatest drug under God’s blue heaven: money.
The film is a tale of excess, the story of a 22-year-old fresh-faced college graduate from a working class family who moved to New York and learned the ropes from some of Wall Street’s finest, was axed during the closing of a prominent firm and decided to start his own, ripped off people, no matter how rich or how poor, to the tune hundreds of millions of dollars, did enough drugs to sedate the entire Eastern seaboard, partied hard enough to put to the city of Las Vegas to shame, and had a chance to walk away from it all with hardly more than a slap on the wrist until, faced with finally taking “no” for an answer, he let his ego get the best of him and lived life even harder and faster than before.
Yes, Jordan Belfort is a deplorable human being, his actions beyond any consideration of moral, and Scorsese and screenwriter Terence Winter, whose script is based on Belfort’s own book detailing his highfalutin exploits, make that clear. This isn’t a tale of redemption, of how one man’s actions once ran perpendicular to the law but now run parallel. No, it’s a tale of greed and personal destruction, and it is equal parts funny, sad, entertaining, and disturbing. Frankly, it’s outrageous beyond measure, but I couldn’t once take my eyes off the screen. It doesn’t hurt that Jordan Belfort is played by Leonardo DiCaprio, arguably one of the most charming men in Hollywood and a man who takes on the role with such unbelievable fervor.
To give you an idea of what Belfort could do, in the film, Forbes magazine runs an article on Belfort labeling him “The Wolf of Wall Street”, a man who could huff and puff and blow your house down while adding to his own gaudy mansion, a man who was so convincing that, if he really did huff and puff and blow your house down, he could collect on your insurance, reinvest the proceeds in the market, and receive a high enough return that he could pay you off and convince you to never tell the authorities what he did to you — but instead, he puts it all in his pocket and yet you still don’t squeal.
Anywhere else, an article like that would signal that your time is up, and that you should throw in the towel and leave before you get stomped on from someone unafraid to encounter the wolf. But not on Wall Street. After Forbes runs the article, a massive influx of young soon-to-be-professionals comes knocking at the door of Belfort’s firm, Stratton Oakmont, begging for a job and a chance to prove their worth. Suckers.
Scorsese recognized during the production of the film that he couldn’t play it as a straight drama — Belfort’s debauchery is just too much for any decent person to take seriously — and so he made the movie a dark comedy, and that move pays off really well for everyone involved.
Jonah Hill joins the cast as Donnie Azoff, one of Belfort’s most loyal compadres. It’s a role that just continues to prove Hill’s abilities, both comedic and dramatic, and he, as Azoff, has some of the most vile and also some of the funniest scenes in the film.
Also notable are Margot Robbie as Naomi, a beautiful blonde from Long Island so drawn to Jordan and the money he provides that she marries him. Naomi bears the brunt of her husband’s tirades and antics, at one point told the family’s yacht must head from Italy to Switzerland even though her aunt in London has just died. It doesn’t make sense to her, but with millions on the line, she doesn’t have much choice if she wants to continue living the lifestyle she lives.
The resurgent Matthew McConaughey also has a small role in the film, one of the most memorable little roles I’ve seen all year, as Mark Hanna, one of Belfort’s early career supervisors. Hanna teaches Belfort the ropes, in effect unleashing the titular wolf on both Wall Street and the rest of the world.
Other actors featured include Rob Reiner as Belfort’s father, Jean Dujardin as a Swiss banker, Kyle Chandler as a federal agent hot on Belfort’s tail, and Kenneth Choi, P.J. Byrne, Ethan Suplee, and Jon Bernthal as some of Belfort’s closest friends and confidants.
The highlight, though, is the main character, the wolf, as played by DiCaprio. The Wolf Of Wall Street contains DiCaprio at the absolute top of his game; never has the actor been so eccentric, so unlikable, so disturbing and disgusting, and yet, I don’t know if he’s ever been so charming, funny, or flat-out entertaining.
It’s a performance worthy of consideration for any and every top acting award in the film industry, one to be mentioned alongside — and in my opinion, above — every other great performance I’ve seen all year. The Wolf Of Wall Street feeds off the vibrant energy of its star, and DiCaprio provides that energy in droves.
At three hours, the film is perhaps a tad long — it could have ended 30 to 40 minutes earlier and left on an even greedier, even more egoistic “I-never-learned-my-lesson” note — but there is so much to be seen here that to fit it in a tighter window really wouldn’t allow the picture to breath. Martin Scorsese and Terence Winter set out to create a film about Wall Street excess, and by virtue of that, it contains an excessive amount of everything: cursing, sex, nudity, drugs, alcohol, partying.
But the film is not really about those things. Make no mistake, the story of The Wolf Of Wall Street boils down to money, that most-addictive drug Belfort speaks of, and not just what it can buy but what it can do to people; not just how it changes one’s lifestyle but the effects it has on one’s morals, beliefs, and values; and how it can effectively change not just how a person’s head thinks, but how their heart feels and how they operate at their core.
It’s deplorable, it’s revolting, it’s excessive and completely outrageous, but most of all, The Wolf Of Wall Street is highly entertaining. Just be sure to check your inhibitions at the door — and grab them immediately upon exiting the theater.
The Wolf Of Wall Street
Grade: ★★★★½ out of ★★★★★
MPAA Rating: R for sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language throughout, and for some violence
Runtime: 180 minutes