Release Date: December 25, 2013
Runtime: 180 minutes
Rating: very, very R
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio; Jonah Hill; Matthew McConaughey; Margot Robbie; Rob Reiner; Kyle Chandler; Jon Bernthal; Jean Dujardin; Joanna Lumley; Ethan Suplee
Jordan Belfort’s helluva story comes to life guns blazing in director Martin Scorsese’s epic account of greed, sex, drugs, excess…all the good stuff. Leonardo DiCaprio gives a ferocious performance that in the hands of a lesser actor could have gone right off the rails into camp territory. Less showy in terms of camerawork and style than other Scorsese pictures, “The Wolf of Wall Street” nonetheless maintains a quick pace (much like the heartbeats that most of the main characters must have had in real life if the drug use in this story is accurate) despite a three-hour running time, and energetic and dedicated performances from all of the actors. Kudos to all for keeping it up (pun definitely intended)!
The story is essentially a real-life rags to riches to rags story. Jordan Belfort is a middle-class kid from Queens who dreams of a life on Wall Street, and the wealth and power that can result from success in the financial industry. After a brief stint at a Wall Street firm (mentored by a wired, but funny Matthew McConaughey), Jordan finds himself out of work and scraping to get by. With a mind focused on success at all costs, Jordan manages to land a job at a strip mall brokerage house that sells penny stocks to poor (literally and figuratively) suckers. Impressing the pants off of his colleagues on his first day by unloading thousands of shares of some crappy stock onto some unsuspecting schmuck, Jordan quickly finds himself back in the game. It’s not long before he branches out on his own, partnering with a schlub named Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) who brazenly befriends Jordan in a diner. Jordan hires some of his hometown buddies (a ragtag group of low life pot dealers) as brokers, and his new company is off to the races, selling shitty stocks to low-level clients whom they could really care less about. In no time, Jordan’s company is growing and he and Donnie are making money…lots of money…and expanding their operation with more brokers. Jordan runs his firm (now named Stratton Oakmont since it sounds like a classy place) like a fraternity; complete with drugs, hookers, midget-tossing…it’s unbelievable! After a profile in Forbes Magazine skyrockets Stratton Oakmont’s popularity, there seems to be no stopping Jordan from becoming the next Donald Trump. Of course, the magazine profile brings Jordan to the attention of the feds (super DILF, Kyle Chandler) and it’s only a matter of time before the party ends in wiretaps, betrayals, and violence.
First of all, let me just say that this movie definitely earns its R rating. I have never seen so many drugs, naked women, wanton sex, and all-around debauchery in a movie…and I’ve seen the “Caligula” director’s cut! Scorsese and company go for broke here, showing all of the highs of drugs and sex to great, sometimes hilariously comedic effect. Of course, and this is where the skill of the filmmaker is evident, sitting just below the surface of the comedy is the truth that all of this fun is coming at a very steep price and acute awareness that the party cannot last forever. So while we might be laughing at Mr. DiCaprio (in a terrific sequence), high on lots of Quaaludes, trying desperately (sidebar: this would make a GREAT Meisner exercise) to get from a pay phone to his car, we also realize that this is, in fact, a horrible moment for Jordan; he must get home in order to thwart Donnie, also wasted, from unknowingly disclosing damaging information on his wiretapped telephone. So, yeah, some of it is hilarious, but there’s always the undercurrent of “Oh Shit!” threading itself through the movie.
In his fifth collaboration with Scorsese, DiCaprio may present his most selfless, full-blooded performance here. His Jordan is a high-octane, F-bomb spouting, hooker-banging, full-blooded sales guy. He’s really marvelous to watch. Since he and Scorsese are clearly comfortable with each other by this point in their careers, you get the feeling that DiCaprio will do anything, go anywhere that Scorsese asks him to. Nothing is held back in his performance here and that is exactly what the character requires. Jonah Hill, who I’ve never been a particular fan of, is just as fearless here as DiCaprio. His Donnie Azoff is a man who knows that his lot in life is to be the loveable loser, perpetually self-deprecating, yet fiercely loyal to Jordan. The real discovery here is Margot Robbie as Jordan’s wife, Naomi. An Australian actress whose best-known work stateside is on the short-lived series “Pan Am,” Robbie is breathtakingly beautiful and sexy, yet faces off with DiCaprio in some very intense scenes like a pro. Honestly, all acting in this movie is top-notch.
“The Wolf of Wall Street” must have been a blast to film, what with all the crowd rallying and party scenes on yachts, etc. And while not on the classic level as Scorsese’s “GoodFellas” or “Casino,” his treatise on Jordan Belfort and his hijinks in the 80s and early-90s make for some very entertaining (yet make no mistake, long) cinema.