The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street photo starrating-4stars.jpgThe spectacular rise and fall of stockbroker Jordan Belfort is the subject of this dark comedy based on his memoir of the same name. In 1991 Forbes magazine dubbed him the “Wolf of Wall Street”. The article was meant to incriminate the tycoon, but ironically only ended up adding to his allure. He didn’t even work on Wall Street—he operated out of Long Island. Stratton Oakmont was a New York “over-the-counter” brokerage house founded after the stock crash of 1987 by him and his business partner Danny Porush. Jonah Hill is Donnie Azoff modeled after the very real Danny Porush. The financial institution became the largest OTC firm in the country during the late 1980s and 1990s. Employing more than 1,000 young impressionable money-hungry types at its peak, the firm operated as a boiler room. Their racket? Encouraging potential investors to buy mostly penny stocks, pumping up the price with exaggerated claims and then selling quickly leaving investors holding worthless stocks.

Director Martin Scorsese considers the true story, then extracts every ounce of hype and offers it to the masses as a fascinating piece of flamboyant entertainment. It’s a fictionalization of Jordan Belfort’s life and Leonardo DiCaprio embodies that man. This marks the 5th collaboration between director Martin Scorsese and his current muse. The two are a partnership made in cinematic heaven as this elicits DiCaprio’s finest performance in a Scorsese film, and possibly ever. He is simply amazing in the role. All intense wild-eyed coked up intensity, he perfectly conveys the magnetic intensity of the man that became a multi-millionaire at age 26. He displays a manic energy dialed up to eleven. Jordan’s take no prisoners approach to getting investors is at once abhorrent and captivating as he commands a roomful of wannabe Gordon Geckos who hang on his every word. We the audience cannot look away either, even when he is spouting the sort of business tactics that would make him a convicted felon a decade later. He doesn’t ask for your attention. He demands it, then smacks you in the face for not listening sooner.

The Wolf of Wall Street is never boring, but it is overlong. The picture was originally scheduled for release on November 15th. That date was pushed back six weeks to Dec 25th when the production was still unfinished. The pressure to get it out before the year was over to qualify for the Academy Awards was building. The finished 3 hours show signs that it didn’t spend enough time in the editing room. It’s easy to see where cuts could’ve been made. It’s not so much that all the lasciviousness occupies a high percentage of the action, because it doesn‘t. But in showing Jordan’s seduction into a drug-fueled and sexual decadence, brief examples pop up continuously throughout. We get it. Jordan snorted a lot of cocaine and <bleeped> a lot of whores. There’s grace in the art of restraint especially in a saga about excess.

The Wolf of Wall Street presents the sensationalism, but what keeps it interesting is the levity. There’s a crazy sense of humor as things are spiraling out of control. The financial institution becomes sort of a bacchanalian orgy where office practices are decidedly less than professional. The movie opens with a large group of brokers playing a dwarf tossing game where they throw little people onto a board with a dollar sign for a bulls-eye. Slimy Swiss banker Jean Jacques Saurel (Jean Dujardin) and stylish British aunt Emma (Joanna Lumley) are memorable side roles. Jordan interacts with each of these characters separately. The scenes feature alternating voice-over inner thoughts that add a humorous layer to the outer dialogue. But the most memorable scene in the film, and perhaps of the year, is when Jordan overdoses on expired Quaaludes and enters what he labels the cerebral palsy stage. What follows is terrifyingly hilarious or hilariously terrifying, depending on your point of view.

The narrative gently chastises Jordan for immorality and the illegality of his depraved lifestyle, while subconsciously seducing the viewer with temptations. Hookers are his weakness. Cocaine and Quaaludes are his vices, but his ultimate drug of choice is money. It’s an indictment of greed. He and his buddies ultimately get their comeuppance. Although it’s served with a frustrating helping of mercy. Screenwriter Terence Winter (Boardwalk Empire) adapts Jordan Belfort’s memoir that supposedly lectures us on the wages of sin, then proceeds to show a guy having the time of his life. The cautionary tale gets a bit lost in the 3 hour runtime but it’s a fun ride while it lasts.

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35 Responses to “The Wolf of Wall Street”

  1. Good review Mark. It was a very long movie, but I never felt like I was bored. Not even for a single second. All because it seemed like there was always something interesting happening here, whether it be more entertaining to watch than anything. But nonetheless, my mind and eyes were both hooked and therefore, I loved it.

    • Fun Fact: At 179 minutes, The Wolf of Wall Street actually broke Martin Scorsese’s own record for his longest film ever. (And that’s after cuts to secure an R rating) Impressive achievement given the length of Casino, The Aviator, and Gangs of New York.

  2. You know I’m a HUGE Scorsese fan so I think you underrated this a bit. The repetition is good in showing that really, all Belfort ever did was snort coke and (excuse me) f___ whores. Showing it more and more isn’t redundant, it moves toward the ending, where we see him not as a fun party animal, but as a depraved a__h___.

    Though we agree for the most part here, especially that Belfort was the performance of a lifetime for DiCaprio.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  3. Great review. In the days following I’ve had some time to calm down and think on it more. Totally could have used some trimming down of some fat, but like you said, it would also be taking away little tiny ounces of fun/quaalude action. That scene on the ship was hilarious, as well. Man what a ride.

    • I knew after Jordan finds out he’s been named successor to Aunt Emma’s money, his insistence they sail through choppy waters would be a recipe for disaster. But nothing could have prepared me for the storm that followed. Even the rescue plan falls into the ocean after a seagull flies into the engine!!

      I wish I could detail all of the incredible scenes in this film but my review was already long enough. Ha ha.

  4. Nice review. I agree the movie runs on a bit too long and could have used some more cutting. That being said, it’s easily the most enjoyable movie I’ve seen all year and one of the best as well.

  5. GaryLee828 Says:

    I agree, could have benefited from some edits. I also got tired of the drug and sex scenes. I liked the movie, but without any likable characters to get behind, it failed to connect with me on any kind of emotional level, so I kinda felt like I was merely watching a bad car wreck. I did enjoy Leo’s acting and agree w/ you how tremendous he was here. He definitely deserves an Oscar nomination, as well as Jonah Hill for supporting. The scene where Leo was crawling to his car made me think “Gilbert Grape is all grown up!!” lol.

    • Best Supporting Actor is going to be one of the most competitive categories at the Oscars. Jonah Hill was fine but I can name at least 10 performances this year that I preferred to what he does here.

      • GaryLee828 Says:

        Make an entry of it before the nominations are announced. Who you think should be nominated and who you think will. Will make an interesting read.

        I say James Franco, Jonah Hill and Barkhad Abdi for best supporting from what I’ve seen.

      • That’s ‘should’ or ‘will’ be nominated?

      • GaryLee828 Says:

        Should – based off what I’ve seen. There is a lot out there I haven’t, though.

  6. Ahh! Where’s your best of 2013 list!? Can’t find it, and was excited to read it on the New Year…

  7. I like this one a lot (enough that it currently counts as my third favorite of the year), but you make a strong case as to its flaws.

    I think it less cautiously critical of Jordan than you do, and I never had issue with its length, but I understand your point all the same.

    Great review!

    • It’s critical of Jordan, but I think some people walk away thinking he’s just some fun-loving party guy. He was clearly much worse than that.

      I haven’t heard what Jordan thinks of the movie about his life, but I would bet he’s very pleased with the way he’s portrayed.

      • I haven’t looked either. I know he’s sworn he’s making no money from the book or movie (that he’s donating all of it), but I don’t know if he likes it.

        And you might be right. Some viewers might not get the criticism as much as they get the funny. It’s a totally fair point.

  8. Glad you loved it. I agree that while it wasn’t boring, it did drag on a bit, which is kind of weird when you think about it. And yes, the cerebral palsy scene is one of my favorite scenes of the year. Leo deserves an Oscar for that entire bit alone. Very, very impressed. And very, very entertained.

  9. Fantastic review, Mark. This is opening very soon here (Jan. 10) and I can’t wait. Just in time for the Globes 🙂

    • Ah yes the Golden Globe Awards are on January 12, aren’t they? Zzzzzzzzz. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. 😈

      • HAHAHA. I know they’re kind of a joke sometimes but I still love that show and I’m reallye xcited for this year’s.

      • I was just looking at the nominations. I’m just addressing the movie categories, but I really have no problems with the choices. They got it right. In fact, they even gave love to Sally Hawkins which was a really nice surprise.

        P.S. Ok it might’ve been nice if James Gandolfini got a mention for Enough Said. He gave a really sweet performance.

      • Yes. Loved seeing Sally Hawkins there and also Julie Delpy! Haven’t watched Enough Said but a nod for James would’ve been nice. Oh well.

  10. This was a very long movie, filled with a lot of extreme behavior, but you know what? i loved it! Leo was absolutely perfect in the role. I thought Jonah played Jonah, he’s was just o.k. All the other actors did a great job too. 4 stars

  11. Can’t wait to see this when it’s out here. Great review. 🙂

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