I have long awaited Martin Scorsese’s latest film, and I am overjoyed at the results. The Wolf of Wall Street is Scorsese’s return to form after deviating somewhat with Hugo and Shutter Island. It brings back Leonardo DiCaprio, it’s set in New York, and it brings back Scorsese’s most common story line: that of a man who gets too much of everything he wants and then looses it. The Wolf of Wall Street is a fast-paced comedy, a brilliant character study, and most of all, a great film.
It is the “based on a true story” of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), a nobody who quickly rises up through the ranks of Wall Street. He gets his first job from Mark Hanna (Mathew McConaughey) who teaches him that the stock market is an illusion and how to sell it. Then there’s the crash in ’87 and he’s out of work, having to start all over again at the bottom. He catches onto penny stocks, which give a 50% commission as opposed to the 1% that blue chips (bigger more reputable stocks) bring. The stocks are more volatile and riskier, but he doesn’t necessarily care about that as he’ s making his commission no matter what. Around this time he meets Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), and the two become friends and go into business for themselves. What starts as a small company in a garage soon becomes the biggest thing to hit Wall Street, and Belfort is filthy rich.
Emphasis on filthy. A major attraction of this film is undoubtedly the high level of debauchery on display here. It will turn some away that’s for sure, and did for me at some points, but it’s a key part of the film. You see the extent that money corrupts these guys, and it’s pretty insane. Most of it is funny, but not all of it, not by a long shot. People end up getting hurt and embarrassed, and you can clearly see that in the film. It gets a bit more complicated because of the large amounts of money involved though. There’s a memorable scene where a woman is bribed to shave her head in front of the entire company. She’s crying, but it’s hard to tell if she’s happy she just made a bunch of money or if she’s sad because she’s bald. People’s personalities and integrity really come into question when money is dangled in front of them. Things get real insane real quick and it’s fascinating and sometimes horrifying to watch.
On the personal side, Belfort came to New York with a wife, but she doesn’t stay around for too long once he hits it big. He develops a relationship with Naomi Lapaglia (Margot Robbie) and eventually marries her. They have a couple of kids, but eventually she wants a divorce as well. And of course, Belfort has been taking advantage of all the prostitutes money can buy this whole time. I actually liked her character, and I thought Robbie did a pretty good job here. I sympathized with her quite a bit. I generally find Scorsese’s female characters and how they are treated as a particular point of interest, and while I didn’t find their relationship as interesting and compelling as the central one in Casino I did get pretty invested in it.
I remember seeing various award nominations classify this as a comedy, and I was surprised. I expected the film to be bit more like Goodfellas and Casino as it has been described, but those aren’t comedies really so I was intrigued to see how it the film would actually play. Let’s just say it appears that mobsters are more serious than stock brokers! The film didn’t feel lighter per se, but I would say it was a lot funnier. I’m sure Scorsese could have opted to make either Goodfellas or Casino for laughs, but he didn’t, and he has here. Let me just say it works great, and it doesn’t undercut any of the themes of the film. One can clearly see Belfort’s wrongdoings here even while laughing at his antics. There are some great scenes, and the cast does a great job with the comedy. Belfort’s arrest in the middle of shooting an infomercial was a highlight for me, as well as trip on expired drugs towards the end. That sequence particularly is an example of how you can start laughing at something Belfort does and end up heavily disapproving.
I noticed something interesting in the theater though, once the FBI agent started coming after Belfort (starting the downward spiral), a lot of the audience was really on Jordan’s side. Despite all of the terrible stuff he had done to his friends and family, the grotesque culture he represented, and the untold amounts of money he scammed off people, they were rooting for him. I didn’t get behind him as much as most, but I agree that he does actually have some good points. Whenever I started to really hate the guy, something would happen that would make me second guess myself. Obviously he’s a fraud and a liar, and he’s very good at it. There’s a really good scene that shows this: when Belfort is going to quit the firm but in the course of giving his going away speech he decides to stay. In a strange way, he’s dedicated to his company and the people in it. He’s definitely not a quitter; his perseverance and determination are commendable in a way even if they’re in pursuit of taking advantage of people. Ultimately I can’t get behind him because he does some really terrible things, but DiCaprio makes him very personable and I see why a lot of people did.
I didn’t see Scorsese making a ton of breakthroughs here (other than using comedy more than I’ve ever seen him use before), but the film is masterful. He uses a lot of his trademarks: voice over narration, quick editing, and a lot of cool point of view shots. A lot of them are on display when Belfort is tripping out at the end: there’s a cool part where he’s looking down these stairs and the first time they look pretty short, but then reality shows them to be much longer. There are also some that look weirdly distorted when he’s lying on the ground. There is a lot of voice over narration, but it definitely adds a lot to the film, mainly humor. Sometimes it’s not so much narration as the actual inner thoughts of the characters, and it’s pretty hilarious.
Overall, I think The Wolf of Wall Street is a real win for Scorsese. We’ll see how it holds up in coming years, but all I know now is that while watching it I got that feeling that can only come from a good movie. The three hours raced by as I drank in the excesses of the characters, and marveled at Scorsese’s craftsmanship. The film really is a good one, and comes highly recommended as long as you can stomach it. As the year comes to a close, The Wolf of Wall Street proves to be one of the best films of 2013.
“My name is Jordan Belfort. The year I turned 26, I made 49 million dollars which really pissed me off because it was three shy of a million a week.”
Long story short: 4/4 stars
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