Movie Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort, “The Wolf of Wall Street”

By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)

Before the rise of the economic echelon currently referred to as the one percent, there was Jordan Belfort… the one percent of the one percent.

Director Martin Scorsese is at it again, intertwining his The Wolf of Wall Street into a Manhattan that we’ve never quite seen before. His fascination with the ever-changing terrain of his hometown includes Gangs of New York, delving into the warring immigrant gangs who carved up the geography of lower Manhattan in the 1860s; The Age of Innocence, examining the immaculately constructed deceptions of the upper class of the 1890s (per Edith Wharton); New York, New York, looking at the evolution of popular musical tastes from the mid-’40s to the early ’60s; Goodfellas, addressing the criminal stranglehold in the ’60s and ’70s (as detailed by Henry Hill per Nicolas Pileggi’s tome); Mean Streets and Taxi Driver, exploring the crippled futility of the post-Vietnam ’70s and now, with The Wolf of Wall Street, laying bare the world of the high rolling stockbrokers of the late ’80s through the mid ’90s (based on the autobiographical book written by Jordan Belfort, portrayed in this film adaptation by Leonardo DiCaprio).

From fresh-faced stockbroker apprentice to the king of the faux “Stratton Oakmont” (as named by Belfort to evince a sense of upper-crust stability, down to its insignia of a roaring lion), our protagonist rapidly rises to the top via the underhanded hawking of unreliable penny stocks. He is a twisted Robin Hood … robbing from both the rich and the struggling middle class, funneling the proceeds to none other than himself and his merry men of handpicked sycophants who he’s meticulously shaped in his own image.

(l to r) Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill in “The Wolf of Wall Street”

Caligulan excess notwithstanding, Wolf is the funniest film that Scorsese has crafted to date. Jonah Hill, who brilliantly portrays Belfort’s second-in-command, carries the absurd humor to untold heights, acting as an inadvertent tour guide to the Wall Street insanity. Together with DiCaprio, this often-comedic tag team — at times approaching a drug-fueled slapstick — is worth the price of admission alone.

As rendered by this over-the-top production, the extravagance is a tidal wave of the hedonistic, replete with a deluge of hookers, drugs of every variety, elephantine yachts, supermodels, mansions, helicopters … making us question the veracity of it all. And yet, given that this movie is based on Belfort’s life, these facts are indeed stranger than fiction.

DiCaprio is stunning. While we’ve experienced his earlier con man in Catch Me if You Can, that character ultimately takes a U-turn. As contrasted with this performance of sheer power intermingled with charisma, unmitigated greed, self-deprecating humor and, at times, a glimmer of mindful honesty. In this, his fifth collaboration with Scorsese, DiCaprio appears to relish every moment onscreen, particularly when his Belfort stands à la Moses on a dais above his people, delivering showboating monologues meant to whip up his stockbroker minions to a frenzy before commanding them to generate even greater profits for a) the company and b) his ever-deeper pockets. (Or is that vice versa?) In the depiction of Belfort, the filmmakers and DiCaprio prove that time-honored concept: a character doesn’t have to be likable – but he does have to be interesting.

(from l to r) Margot Robbie, Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Scorsese

Strong performances also come from well-known actors who have never worked with Scorsese prior. Other than Jonah Hill, the film offers up such disparate characters as Kyle Chandler’s grimly determined FBI agent, Rob Reiner’s quick-tempered father and Matthew McConaughey, who starts off the movie with a virtual blast as Belfort’s maniacal mentor. Playing Belfort’s second spouse, “the Duchess of Bay Ridge,” Margot Robbie – who could pass for Jamie Pressly’s younger sister – is marvelous as the trophy wife who ultimately can’t overlook her husband’s wicked ways.

Additionally, the camera allows plenty of face time for Belfort’s assorted band of rag-tag followers, each one contributing a unique sensibility. The actors include Ethan Suplee, Kenneth Choi, P.J. Byrne and Jon Bernthal. (Look for the acclaimed writer/director Spike Jonze portraying the comedic, clueless manager who Belfort encounters at the first, rundown penny stock operation.)

Though the film comes in at three hours, the script by Terence Winter (creator of Boardwalk Empire) is a zippy beast, entertaining as it is revelatory.

It seems that septuagenarian Scorsese shows no signs of slowing down. His sharp, whirling scenes, his accelerated pacing, his masterful sensibility as to when to scramble the time line, when to allow Belfort to break the fourth wall, when to allow other characters to shine all makes for delicious cinema.

And yet: it is only until after we leave the movie house that questions arise. How is it that former stockbroker and Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff is despised en masse, sentenced to 150 years in prison, while Belfort got off with nothing but a hand slap, sentenced to a mere 22 months? And is now reaping profits from both his book and upcoming movie royalties? Did the earlier decade signify a more indulgent time? Did Belfort simply possess more charisma than Madoff? Did the general populace, more attuned to the later scandals of Lehman Bros., Bear Sterns, Salomon Smith Barney, et al., overlook the sins of Belfort’s smaller Stratton Oakmont?

Though we may initially experience a vicarious thrill at Belfort’s triumphs prior to his fairly mild comeuppance, at the end of this struggling economic day, it is disconcerting to see our flawed hero at large, apparently still as cocky as hell. While the cinematic ride may have been fun, the payoff solely belongs to Belfort.

How nice for him …


Rating on a scale of 5 Gordon Gekkos: 4

Release date: December 25, 2013
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Screenplay by: Terence Winter
Based on the book by: Jordan Belfort
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin
Rating: R
Running Time: 180 minutes

Here’s the trailer:

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