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Martin Scorsese's 'The Wolf of Wall Street' review: An excessive movie about excess

By Daniel S Levine,
Author Rating: 
4.5 Stars

The Wolf of Wall Street is the movie Martin Scorsese should have made with Leonardo DiCaprio years ago. This is a film that only Scorsese could have made, with rapid-fire dialogue, dizzying editing and vile characters that you can't take away your eyes from. It's shocking, vulgar and as excessive as its main character, Jordan Belfort. The Wolf of Wall Street is not Goodfellas-meets-Wall Street. It's even better than that.

Jordan Belfort is an opportunist. He goes to Wall Street with dreams of hitting it big, striking rich and moving as far from the middle class life his parents lead. After he gets his first job, he learns the ropes – including the illegal ropes. His boss, Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), teaches him how to work the system in his benefit and it works, until 1987 when Black Monday hits. Jordan gets fired, but is undeterred. He finds a small firm on Long Island, where he brings his Wall Street mentality and takes advantage of small companies. With that as his launch pad, he goes on to create his own firm with Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) and a few other friends. It's a success and the company continues to grow, all thanks to illegal activity. Now, he can really change his life – he gets a better house, a new wife, friends in high places. Oh... and drugs. Lots and lots of drugs.

Eventually, all this notoriety leads to an FBI investigation, lead by Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler). Against Bo Dietl's suggestions (yes, Dietl plays himself), Jordan decides to look into Denham's investigation and meets with him on his yacht. Now, Jordan knows that he's got eyes on him and he does what he can to stay ahead of the government. It's not exactly easy to do when you're high on outlawed prescription medication.

Scorsese and the script by Terence Winter never gets bogged down in the nitty-gritty of what Belfort's doing. In fact, they even break the fourth wall to tell us that we shouldn't really care. The Wolf of Wall Street is far more interested in just following Jordan's disastrous attempts to outrun the law. And the fact that the real Jordan is out of prison today is a fact that let's you know coming in that he's going to get away with some of this stuff. It's just how he gets away with it that makes it outrageous.

As for DiCaprio, it's hard to believe it, but his partnership with Scorsese has finally produced a movie worthy of the greatest Scorsese films with Robert De Niro. Previously, they had been hit-or-miss and hadn't made a film together since the 2010 thriller Shutter Island. In that film, DiCaprio got to do crazy, but here he gets to give a slightly comic, eased performance. He's partly hilarious and partly pathetic. He's like an entirely different actor from his cardboard performance in Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby earlier this year. Clearly, DiCaprio has to work with directors who are far more interested in performances than visuals and Scorsese is one such director.

The supporting cast Scorsese has gathered for DiCaprio to play off of is brilliant as well, with Jonah Hill giving a top performance. That moment when the two are rolling on the floor, high out of their mind on pills is brilliant and one of the funniest moments Scorsese has directed. Other standouts include Margot Robbie as Jordan's second wife, Rob Reiner as his father and Jean Dujardin as a Swiss banker.

Yes, The Wolf of Wall Street is three hours and the nudity, cursing and all those drugs may be too hard to take for some, but this is Scorsese at his best. Every moment has its purpose, putting together a portrait of a flawed figure and his dangerous desire to escape the norm.

image: Paramount

 
 

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