Review: The Wolf of Wall Street – Dollars to debauchery
If we’ve learned anything over our past decade of financial misfortunes it is that the denizens of Wall Street are not to be trusted. If you haven’t yet grasped that lesson, be sure to take in The Wolf of Wall Street, the new Martin Scorsese film about the debauchery and dishonor of real-life stockbrokers who revel in the defaming and destruction of the American financial system.
This film covers the rise and fall of Jordan Belfort, the founder of Stratton Oakmont, the intentionally misleading name of a 1990s “boiler room” brokerage house with the sole purpose of defrauding investors with the high-pressure sales of worthless penny stocks. This is one of the most disturbing films I’ve seen in a while, but it is also a guilty pleasure in that it is so well done and so hilariously funny – until you take a moment to reflect on what it is you are laughing about.
In this film, his fifth collaboration with Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio boldly plays the depraved Belfort, who at the age of 26 was already a multimillionaire, with money scammed from hard-working people trying to invest their meager life savings. Unlike the similarly themed Wall Street (from Oliver Stone way back in 1987), the pain and suffering caused by Belfort and his cohorts is never really addressed in this film, which I feel is the movie’s biggest fault. (There is a slight nod to the nameless victims towards the end of the film, but it’s too little too late.)
The Wolf of Wall Street is three-hours of wall-to-wall sex, drug abuse, lies, cheating, stealing and violence; and it treats women worse than any film I can remember seeing. I’m not sure how Scorsese avoided a NC-17 rating, but he certainly pushes the edge of the R-rating with this movie.
The story is based on Belfort’s book of the same title, so it’s no surprise that his escapades and excesses are glamorized in this film. Although I’m sure it is not Scorsese’s intent, there will be some who, sadly, will see this notorious numbskull as a hero – the Scarface of securities fraud.
Despite the film’s unsavory subject matter, Scorsese once again proves why he is considered one of the masters of American cinema. His unconventional storytelling here drifts between having DiCaprio’s Belfort address the theater audience directly, to voiced-over thoughts, to standard narration and a straight-forward narrative. He also utilizes some nifty camera tricks to help you see the story through the characters’ eyes – sometimes to great comedic effect.
The performances in this film are fantastic and in addition to DiCaprio, Jonah Hill plays Donnie Azoff (based on the real-fife Danny Porush), Belfort’s partner and co-founder of Stratton Oakmont; and Margot Robbie plays Belfort’s wife, Naomi . You might remember Robbie as Charlotte in the recent time-travel film, About Time, but you’ll likely never forget her Basic Instinct moment in this movie.
The excellent cast also includes appearances by a wacky Matthew McConaughey as Belfort’s early mentor, Jon Favreau as his scummy attorney, Rob Reiner as his easy-to anger father, Kyle Chandler as the F.B.I. agent who is out to get him, and Jon Bernthal as one of his low-life criminal friends. It is great to see Bernthal (Shane from The Walking Dead) on the big screen (he is also very good in Grudge Match) and I predict he is going to be a huge star in the near future.
DiCaprio’s last film, The Great Gatsby, also dealt with the abuses of the rich at the expense of the poor (we could also lump The Aviator – also by Scorsese and DiCaprio – in there as well.) I’m not sure what that means, but it’s interesting to note the trend. Coincidentally, like The Great Gatsby, this film also has an awesome soundtrack that weaves the sordid action together perfectly.
It is disturbing that people like Jordan Belfort exist in the world, but it is even more unsettling that there are so many people eager to follow them (E.g. Belfort is now a successful motivational speaker.) The Wolf of Wall Street is a tad too long, but this is an otherwise very well crafted film and one that should scare the bejeesus out of you (albeit in an entertaining way.) Please note that although this film is released on Christmas Day, this is NOT a movie you’ll want to take the family to. I strongly recommend you leave the kiddies at home. Grade: 8/10
Photos © 2013 Paramount Pictures