25 December 2013

Review: The Wolf of Wall Street


Any word synonymous with Wall Street hasn't been a friendly one for some time now. Gordon Gekko's infamous declaration that "Greed is good" sealed the fate of Wall Street brokers' reputations for good. For this reason Oliver Stone's searing indictment used to be the seminal film on the rampant greed that takes place on America's most corrupt street, but that title now belongs to The Wolf of Wall Street.



In all of the ways that Stone lectured and brow-beat audiences during Gordon and Bud's terrible behavior, Martin Scorsese is more than happy to stand back and let the exuberance of Jordan Belfort's immorality play out for the black comedy it all is. Take how he is introduced to the audience. Racing around in a Lamborghini he starts us off with this tidbit. "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."

A strong impression to say in the least, but for the full impact of where Jordan ends up to have effect, we must first see where he started.

Fresh out of college a young Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) gets his first job on Wall Street ready to put his nose to the grindstone. Once there he picks up a different sort of lesson from mentor Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey, killing it one more time in 2013) about what brokers actually do. First of all, no one knows anything about the market, it's all a fugazi. The real priority is looking out for number one, putting the clients money in your pocket and doing enough coke to get through the afternoon daze. Before Jordan can get big with the firm, the crash of 1987 puts Belfort out on his ass and looking for work.

Taking a step down to work as a Long Island penny stockbroker, Jordan learns that while brokers only get 1% commission of blue-chips stocks, they can earn 50% off of penny stocks. Sensing a shortcut to the good life Jordan assembles a start-up of his own made up of hangers-on like Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) to convince clients who can barely afford steak dinners to cough up thousands of dollars in stock purchases.

Soon Jordan and Donnie's venture, now titled Stratton Oakmont Inc. is a success worthy of coverage by Forbes magazine. Jordan is the latest "it" man on Wall Street and once the acclaim he earns goes to his head, changes come fast and furious. He trades in his wife Teresa for supermodel Naomie (Margot Robbie), he buys the most expensive house in Long Island history and proceeds to indulge in a small mountain of cocaine, Quaaludes and hookers.

As the money piles in to Stratton Oakmont, the debauchery increases to an alarming rate. Little people are tossed at giant dartboards, hookers are brought into the office by the dozens, Jordan buys a helicopter only to crash it into his front lawn. And it doesn't end with his personal behavior, Oakmont reaches new lows in defrauding buyers, and other forms of corruption. Convinced of his own invincibility Jordan is foolhardy enough to openly bribe the agent investigating his case (Kyle Chandler).

Unlikeable characters are common, but few are as completely repelling as titular Wolf of Wall Street. There is no change in this man, there is no heart-wrenching scene of forgiveness, no crying over the loss of his soul. Just an unrepentant slime waiting for his next opportunity to climb right back on top of the world.

The fifth collaboration between Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio marks the most vibrant entry into their filmography. Scorsese hasn't lost his edge following his seventy-first birthday, the razor sharp comic timing is there. This high-energy, cocaine-fueled binge of immoral behaviors and earnings could only be made by a director at complete control of his craft.

Jordan Belfort is a unique role for DiCaprio to take. He's played rich, he's played eccentric and he's played criminal before, but never has he looked like he was having fun. One such scene has Belfort trying to get back to his car completely messed up on Quaaludes and no feat of physical acting could ever top this. Leonardo DiCaprio tears right off the screen as Belfort.

Rounding out the high-caliber supporting cast is McConaughey, Hill, Chandler, Jon Favreau, and Jean Dujardin. McConaughey only appears in the film for a few minutes, but if he were in it any longer he would completely steal the show. Jonah Hill's turn from Apatow-ian projects to artier fare like Moneyball and The Wolf of Wall Street has proved quite fruitful and his scenes bouncing riffs off of DiCaprio are priceless.

The Wolf of Wall Street
is a first-rate satire that is unapologetically insane. The actors are having a great deal of fun with their parts and Scorsese fires on all cylinders. The complaints that several scenes could be significantly shorter is a legitimate one, but the film could add seven hours to its three hour runtime, and I would still watch it all regardless.

It is required viewing for those who love movies.