Truth be told, the idea of this film didn’t exactly blow my skirt up when I got wind of it being the next, umpteenth collaboration between Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorcese. Generally anything focusing on the inner workings of the stock market is a tranquilizer to me, I just don’t care about it. Both Scorcese and DiCaprio have amassed some solid and impressive filmographies over the years, both together and separately, so it was on that merit that I opted to check it out when a pretty lady I know asked me to go with her. How did it rank up? Interestingly.
The Story: ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ centers on the criminal and debaucherous life and career of a corrupt and seemingly sociopathic stock broker named Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio). In the late 80s/early 90s, having quickly figured out the inner workings of penny stock scams, Belfort fires up his own brokerage, superficially named Stratton Oakmont. In little time, the rugged little company blossoms into a Wall Street juggernaut. We follow Belfort through a mind-numbing slew of sexual depravity, rampant substance abuse and self-serving criminal behaviour, as the FBI begin sniffing at his heels. It’s not long before the inevitable downward spiral begins.
Scorcese and DiCaprio have crafted a very odd and interesting film this time around. The flick is pure biting satire, with many ‘laugh-out-loud’ sequences, usually involving the use of cocaine and/or Quaaludes. Sure, this movie IS based on a sordid true story/person, but anyone who opts to take this version of events as gospel is a stupid idiot. The depravity and excess on display is absurd, with a slight undercurrent of sour ‘illness’ to the flavor. Thinking back to it, it’s pretty surprising just what was shown. There is sex and full-frontal nudity EVERYWHERE in this flick. The montages showing how the employees of Stratton Oakmont party border on ‘legit’ porn. Hell, in one of the first scenes introducing Belfort, we see him undeniably blowing coke through a tube into the ass of a nubile and naked chick, all poised for action. I blinked a couple extra times to make sure that WAS what I was seeing. It was.
The cast, as with most Scorcese flicks, is great. Aside from DiCaprio, we get a surprising Jonah Hill (Superbad) turning up as Donnie, Belforts ‘Lude-fueled Second-in-Command, Matthew McConaughey (Contact) as Belfort’s original coke-tweaked ‘mentor’, Director Rob Reiner as Belfort’s hilarious father ‘Mad’ Max, Kyle Chandler (Super 8) as the determined Fed hunting Belfort and Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead) as one of Belfort’s primary shady associates, Brad. Iron Man director Jon Favreau pops up for an extended cameo as a security ‘consultant’, complete with an awful moustache. From what I understand, much on-set ad-libbing contributed to this flick, and it shows effectively.
The acting and character interactions are really good, especially where Jonah Hill’s character Donnie is concerned. Rocking a big-ass set of perfectly sculpted buck-teeth, Hill throws himself into this amusing but repellent character, and pulls it off nicely. That’s something that some viewers may find somewhat off-putting: EVERYBODY in this story is a degree of ‘repellent’. ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ revels in pulling us into the disgusting underbelly that these cretins inhabit and, at times, does so to a fault.
One of the common complaints about this movie is the run-time, which clocks in at 180 minutes. LARGE portions, especially in the 2nd Act, are dedicated to nothing more than showing just how fucked up these characters lives are, with endless shots of people snorting coke, people popping pills, people fucking people, people counting cash…and so on. Looking back, it seems to be that the entirety of the bloated middle portion consists of not much more than that which I just listed. As amusing as much of it was, I think the film would’ve benefited from a trim in THOSE areas.
I also think that too much attention on the debauchery took away from the chance for the Belfort character to have much of an arc. The character didn’t seem to go anywhere, starting off as ‘easily influenced in the wrong direction’, and then just running with it. By the time the credits had rolled, I didn’t really ‘feel’ the ‘journey’ of the character; it felt like a bunch of stuff had just…happened.
Speaking of ‘stuff happening’, I have to mention a strange contrast to the film, on a technical level. As with most (damn near all) Scorcese films, the editing is often creatively effective. The same can easily be said here, with the editing style complimenting the absurd, satirical tone of the picture. On the flip side, there was a good number of sloppy shots and badly synch’d sound elements used. Many times we’d hear a character speaking, only to have the same character’s mouth be motionless on-screen (yes, there is a key scene where THIS is done deliberately but small, incidental occurrences pop up all over the place). Or shots used in a close-up of a character enthusiastically clapping (for example), only to cut to an immediate WIDE shot and the same character is just sitting there, motionless. Little things like this jarringly popped up and I found myself surprised at the sloppiness being shown by such a celebrated and hugely competent director.
‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ is a very entertaining movie that suffers from unnecessary bloating and a little too much time submerged at the low depths that these piece-of-shit characters exist at. The acting is quite solid, and often hilarious. I chuckled a lot through the film, especially during the ‘Lemon 714’ scene. You’ll know it when you see it, as DiCaprio’s over-the-top performance has the potential to go down as a classic piece of physical comedy. The story is not one that will resonate in my psyche for ALL time, but I had (mostly) a good time watching it. You don’t NEED to see this in the theatre, but if you’re a fan of the talent involved, a home release viewing is recommended…especially since you can then PAUSE the damn thing if you need to.