The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) / Drama-Comedy
MPAA Rated: R for sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language throughout, and for some violence
Running Time: 180 min.
Cast:Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler, P.J. Byrne, Kenneth Choi, Rob Reiner, Ethan Suplee, Brian Sacca, Henry Zebrowski, Jon Bernthal, Jean Dujardin, Cristin Miloti, Christine Ebersol, Jon Favreau, Matthew McConaughey, Bo Dietl
Small role: Edward Herrmann (voice), Jordan Belfort, Justin Long
Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenplay: James V. Hart, Michael Goldenberg
Review published December 27, 2013
Martin Scorsese (Shutter Island, Shine A Light) directs the Terence Winter (Get Rich or Die Tryin', "Boardwalk Empire") adaptation of the best-selling memoir from multimillionaire stock broker Jordan Belfort, turning it into the closest thing to a comedy the veteran director has made since After Hours in 1985, though I do think that GoodFellas, the movie this feels closest to in narrative structure, has more laughs as a drama. Some might also be reminded of the De Palma flick, Scarface, which told a similar three-hour story of someone pushing product to the public regardless of its detriment to society as a whole, as we see a barrage of scenes in which the rewards f the criminal lifestyle is seen as glamorous and fun, only for an eventual hangover to result in the third act. Also like Scarface, there is also a cynicism in knowing that the main character of the story will be regarded as an anti-hero to more impressionable viewers, who will see Belfort's methods as a blueprint to success, rather than a cautionary tale of greed run amok.
Playing Jordan is Scorsese's current go-to actor, Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained, Body of Lies), who delivers yet another great cranked-to-ten performance. Belfort starts off in the mid-1980s on the lowest rung of a major stock trading company, learning the ropes on how to sell just about any stock to the customers, regardless of whether or not there is a payoff for the client at the end. When Black Monday strikes and he finds himself out of a job, Belfort thinks that may be it for his career, until he finds that he can earn a fifty times the rate of commission dealing penny stocks to regular joes looking to make a quick buck. Translate that to selling near-worthless stocks to millionaires, and nearly overnight Jordan and his rag-tag staff of loyal degenerates become filthy rich themselves, as their company, Stratton Oakmont, skyrockets to the stratosphere on Wall Street.
As you can imagine, especially if you've followed the Jordan Belfort story at all, is that what goes up doesn't always keep going up, as eventually, like any drug, the intoxication of money soon makes him just desire more to get his fix, and in that greed, sloppiness and a feeling of invincibility will get the better of him. Belfort is all id, all the time, indulging himself with whatever whim comes his way -- drugs, prostitutes, and unrestrained materialism, the latter of which becomes so large that he eventually becomes visible on the FBI's radar, who become convinced that there's a good deal of funny business involved in Belfort's dealings that needs to be looked into.
Much like the story of Jordan Belfort is the movie based on him. Both the book and Scorsese's film are full of unbridled excess, wallowing in the nonstop display of money and hedonism in all forms, almost to the point where striving for any more seems so pointless. This is one of those cases where the three-hour length might be seen as too extravagant for some, especially as there are lengthy scenes that occur that do little to push forward any plot that couldn't have been shown in a shrewdly edited montage sequence instead.
Nevertheless, the film is worth seeing for a collection of either interesting or compelling scenes in between the excess. One involves perhaps the funniest examples of physical comedy of 2013, in which Jordan, as well as his right-hand man Donnie Azoff (Hill, This is the End), end up consuming Quaaludes that have three times the potency of the ones they might normally take, as DiCaprio and Hill must proceed with a very lengthy, mostly improvised scene without much use of any sort of fine motor skills in their mouths or limbs.
There are also a handful of interesting, spittle-spraying speeches delivered by DiCaprio on the nature of what it means to sell, as well as getting to the heart of why they do what they do -- those who spend their lives assisting others (firefighters, police, nurses) must spend their lives barely able to rub two nickels together, while those out to fleece them out of even those two nickels can amass ungodly amounts of capital on the oft-broken promise that they will help them out of their situation if they just hand over their money to someone they feel they can trust with it. The fourth wall is broken often by Belfort, who talks to us in the audience as he does in his memoirs, reflecting on his life as he is living it, though never quite seeming particularly rueful about living like a complete narcissist much of the time.
The acting is impeccable, with Margot Robbie being the surprising standout as Belfort's supermodel beautiful, New Jersey-tough second wife, Naomi. As an acting showcase alone, it's worth the watch, even if the story structure doesn't lend itself to a compelling narrative arc. This is a film that succeeds despite a weak story (though I've read most of the book, and I will say, to its credit, it does capture its hedonistic spirit), mostly due to the having just enough moments of entertainment to traverse us through the lulls, as well as some very captivating actors on display.
And yet, Scorsese lets them all linger too long in a fatiguing array of prolonged decadence that eventually ceases to shock so much as numb. As a film, it's like Stratton Oakmont as depicted in the film -- an orgiastic madhouse marathon of self-indulgence that refuses to give up the perpetual party until there's no where else to go but the hard crash down.
©2013 Vince Leo