Friday, December 27, 2013

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Fresh faced Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is excited to start his first job on Wall Street.  He quickly learns how devastating the stock market can swing when Black Monday hits and finds himself out of a job.  Struggling to find a new gig, he comes across a small operation where he learns you can make a lot more money selling worthless penny stocks to unsuspecting investors.  He founds his firm, Stratton Oakmont, with Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) and a small group of friends, and quickly grows it into a hugely successful company making millions of dollars.

Stratton Oakmont reminded me of the chop shop firm from Boiler Room, and it turns out both films were inspired by Jordan Belfort, who I didn't realize was a real person until I learned that The Wolf of Wall Street was based off his memoirs.  My only criticism of the story, albeit a small one, is that much of what you see here isn't exactly breaking any new ground.  Besides Boiler Room, plenty of other films have generally portrayed stockbrokers as immoral, prostitute-loving cokeheads, or put their greed on display.  

The difference with The Wolf of Wall Street is all this hedonism is turned up to the max.  These guys spend money and party like nobody you've ever seen.  When Belfort details his drug habits, you wonder how he hasn't dropped dead already.  You know how when you go to a party and ask the host if you need to bring a six pack or bag of chips?  Jordan Belfort would demand you bring a kilo of cocaine, a busload of hookers, or a bowl of Quaaludes.  These are the party favors at a Stratton Oakmont party.  The parties DiCaprio's Gatsby threw don't hold a candle to the excess of a DiCaprio/Belfort party.

These guys were completely out of control, but that was the point Martin Scorsese was trying to make.  It's an unapologetic spotlight on their behavior.  It may shock or disgust you, and none of them appear to any conscience at all.  They don't care that they're ripping people off.  Contrast that with Boiler Room, where Giovanni Ribisi faces a moral dilemma once he realizes what he's doing is wrong, and even tries to make amends.  I'm sorry I keep bringing up Boiler Room, but seriously though, check it out if you haven't yet.

There's no ambiguity here.  It's clear from the opening moments that Belfort and rest of his crew aren't meant to be sympathetic.  They are constantly driven to amass more wealth and upgrade anything they can in their lives, even their wives.  Hell, the early part of this film could have been called "How I Divorced Your Mother", as Belfort's first wife is played by HIMYM's Cristin Milioti.  Although I can't say I blame Belfort when you meet his new wife, Naomi (Margot Robbie).  This is first time I've seen Margot Robbie in anything, but keep an eye out for her in the future.  If anything, she's another name I'm adding to the long list of Australian actresses I want to marry.

There's no redemption for anyone during the film, and I wonder what the real Jordan Belfort has learned from all of this.  The fact that he wrote these stories and didn't paint himself in the best light would make me think he at least feels a little bad about he did.  Despite the deplorable behavior and decadence, The Wolf is still amusing.  Part of you might even wish you could attend one of these parties just for the experience and stories.  It understandable to want a little taste of what they have.  It's also very funny.  There's one Quaalude fueled sequence that's as zany as anything I've seen in a recent comedy.  The dialog in Terence Winter's script is very sharp.  You'll be surprised when you realize that The Wolf of Wall Street is three hours long, as it goes by like a drunken blur.

The performances, of course, are outstanding.  People have wondered for years when Leonardo DiCaprio would get nominated for an Oscar, and I think this is finally his year.  He's had deeper or more dramatic roles, but this is easily his most lively and amusing.  The Wolf is definitely my favorite performance of his.  He'll likely be competing with his co-star, Matthew McConaughey, whose fans may be disappointed to hear he's not in the movie that much.  McConaughey's character establishes the tone for the film though, as well as sets Belfort up with the rules that he eventually adopts as his lifestyle.

I thought Jonah Hill was extremely funny and I would argue this is a better performance than the one he got nominated for in Moneyball.  I wouldn't be surprised to see another supporting nomination for him.  Rob Reiner was a total scene stealer as Belfort's Dad, and he was a welcome sight on the big screen again.  Besides Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler, Jon Bernthal, and Jean Dujardin all stand out as part of the supporting cast.  I got a kick out of some of the characters that made up the rest of Belfort's team, and even Jon Favreau has a small role.  There isn't a weak performance in the bunch.

A word of warning, while I've never really taken issue with nudity in a film, The Wolf of Wall Street has more nudity in it than any film I can remember outside of an actual porn.  This also has to be up there with the most amount of f-bombs dropped, as well.  I have to imagine this flirted with an NC-17 rating, and if so, I really want to see the Director's Cut.

The Wolf of Wall Street may not be Martin Scorsese's best film, but it's definitely one of his most humorous and entertaining.  The energy and craziness is intoxicating.  Like many of Scorsese's films, it's one you'll watch and enjoy again and again, but don't expect to ever catch this while channel surfing on some rainy afternoon.

5 (out of 5) Death Stars


  1. Great review, Erik. And I agree, this is probably Leo's best performance to date, even better than last year's Django Unchained (which still SHOULD have gotten nominated!). I also wouldn't be surprised to see both he and Hill get nominations for their performances here. But yeah, this one was great, and it's one that's just so fascinating to watch that you really don't even notice the time. :)

    1. Thanks, Chris. The thing I liked about Hill is that he's not playing a version of himself again. I'm not sure why Leo's always gotten the shaft during awards season, but sooner or later it's going to be his time. Overall, just a fun, irreverent time at the movies.

  2. Good review Erik. Yes, it was three-hours long and yes, I never, not for a single second, found myself bored. Some things were a bit repetitive, but I never felt like Scorsese was screwing us over. He was just constantly finding more and more things to work with and the end result was pretty damn spectacular.

    1. Thanks, Dan. This is one of those times where the movie is such a wild ride that you don't even notice the length and you're sad to see it end.

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