Every Martin Scorsese movie that comes out feels like an event. Not many directors can pull that feeling out of you. There really is nothing quite like seeing it firsthand. It always feels wholly original with every new creation. But The Wolf Of Wall Street is unlike any movie he has ever done while at the same time still maintaining that very noticeable Scorsese stamp. You never know what to expect with him as this is his most daring and insane. Going back to the one of a kind style he made with classics like Goodfellas and Casino, it’s a welcome return for a master of grandiose epics and insane vulgarity.
Starting off this is Leonardo DiCaprio at his most dynamic, charismatic, and off the wall insane and unpredictable. It is rare when he does not deliver at 110% as he truly formed into a true master of his craft. I thought he was amazing in Django Unchained as ruthless plantation owner Calvin Candie, but he blew that out of the water in every which way. Playing the role of ruthless villain again Jordan Belfort, he is funny, captivating, and enthralling in way too many ways. Leo has never really had a role like this where he is so unapologetic and willing to do whatever he wants no matter the cost. It’s refreshing to see a character go all out and not care while not waiting for a clichéd change of heart or being immediately regretful. It makes it hard to believe that guys like this exist, let alone this exact person and his friends. Jordan is so reprehensible and awful but Leo plays it so well and believable that you can’t help but feel bad for him sometimes, especially when he’s directly at fault for getting involved in these crazy situations.
He goes in so many wild directions that nothing before you see in the film will prepare you for what will happen next. Much like Frank Abagnale Jr. in Catch Me If You Can, he is a master criminal of getting what he wants by the all too powerful tool and weapon of persuasion. He makes the art of mass stock fraud kind of cool. You marvel at the swindle but wish you had the chance to bullshit a sap on a phone. But it’s still a terrible crime that has ruined many lives and that shouldn’t be forgotten. Of course it doesn’t mean that people can’t envision a life of crime while watching a movie. Roles like this don’t come along that often, more or less they hold back content and script wise or don’t have the right actor to properly portray it. But Leo gives it such reverence and panache, it almost feels like we should be paying extra than the standard ticket price. He literally gives everything he’s got onscreen with no room for anything else. Nothing else was needed. We don’t need to see him toil with regret, doubt or the pain of stealing millions from innocent people. Frankly it wouldn’t be that interesting. We see him go through so much turmoil while at the top of the mountain that it makes any other feeling meaningless. Everything that could have been dwelled into or developed with his character went into much depth. Leo doesn’t really allow himself to be in roles to be so diverse and fun, usually maintaining a tortured and depressed character in his movies recently. That’s what makes this so special and one of a kind. He’s a rock star in the highest order with all the excesses and privileges that comes with it. the world of Django Unchained was largely fictionalized but knowing that everything here is nearly too good to be true shows you how crazy a man can get with everything at his disposal in a world where you make the rules. I liken this performance to Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview from There Will Be Blood; graphic, ugly and captivating. He is also another actor that goes all out in his role while looks like he is having too much fun. It’s a role that begs for an Oscar nomination. I’d love to see him one but the field is very strong this year. Hopefully the content won’t scare voters away. To hinder an amazing performance on something so trivial would be devastating.
Jonah Hill has never been better or funnier. This is the perfect vehicle for him and should be the role that puts him over the top for dramatic roles. His crude sense of humor, ad libbing and comedic sense of timing is perfect and goes hand in hand in the cinematic world of Martin Scorsese. He was a great right hand man as Donnie Azoff to Jordan Belfort, often going toe with him on every level. He matched his own crazy with Leos crazy and meshed seamlessly. Their chemistry together was one of the best I’ve seen all year and one of the best comedic performances I’ve seen all year. Jonah betters his self-deprecating comedic performance in This Is The End in every way. This will remain a benchmark, climbing over his old one with Moneyball. He looked every bit a stereotypical Jewish stockbroker with the thick rimmed glasses, demeanor and accent. He was miles away from his earlier roles that you forget he starred in all those many Apatow films. In a movie littered with random bouts of hilarity from various characters, he often gets a lot of the funniest lines and moments. He is much like Tommy DeVito from Goodfellas, short unassuming and a loose cannon. While Tommy shoots Spider for telling him off, Donnie well does something disgusting at Jordan’s huge house party. Jonah is slowly showing how much of a great dramatic actor he is with the ferocity of a pit-bull.
The rest of the cast was exceptional as always with Scorsese films. Margot Robbie was absolutely fantastic as Naomi Lapaglia, the harried, gorgeous model wife to Jordan. She really surprises you and comes out swinging with tense emotional moments. Like many women before her in past Scorsese films, she provides much of the heart, conscience and emotional center of the film to ride it along. You have to feel for her and the kids but she knew all too well what type of guy she was getting involved with, hookers, drugs and all. As she gets more and more involved with such a nefarious criminal and his empire, it gets harder to get out. Eventually she becomes a part of his operation, not wanting to lose the money, stature and everything else that comes with it. She also went extremely well with Leo, holding more than her own. Loose cannon in her own right, she holds Jordan to task on his past misdeeds. One scene in particular was especially revealing as it shows how in control she is, using her unbridled sexuality to reign him in. Equal parts alluring and shocking. Kyle Chandler has an understated performance as by the book FBI Agent Patrick Denham. He isn’t given much dramatic weight but like everyone here he gets a stellar scene. He trades barbs and wits with Leo atop his yacht in a great confrontation fraught with tension.
Matthew McConaugheys streak of great performances continues. He is used to being a scene stealer in roles big or small. And he does it again here as Wall Street guru Mark Hanna. Though it was mainly a brief lunch scene with Leo, it was downright brilliant. Never getting enough credit for his comedic timing, he hilariously lays down the unofficial ground rules to survive Wall Street. Was certainly eye opening into the mind of a weathered, battle tested wall street baron and more or less quite truthful. The money chant he did will eventually become intertwined into the pop culture lexicon. I found myself humming it long after the credits rolled and do it normally. Rob Reiner added a nice touch of seniority playing Jordan’s dad Max Belfort. He was great playing the comic foil to Jordan’s eccentricities including a great scene involving women’s hygienics. The rest of Jordan’s crew was perfectly cast with PJ Byrne playing Nicky Koskoff, his other confidant. He is usually played as a supporting comedic character but gets a meatier part here going off well with Leo and Jonah. The group known as the founding fathers had some minor but hilarious moments to themselves as well. The supporting cast was wide and vast but the little touches made it so sprawlingly complete and definite.
The story is the Scorsese standard true story rags to riches style format but it never gets old as the story is so full of surprises with plentiful characters. But it gets ramped up here injected with cocaine mixed with steroids, moving fast and furious, hectic and fun. It’s obviously new as it centers on white collar crime instead of the norm blue collar crime. But that change opens up a whole world of possibilities, making it tons of more fun and unexpected. There are more rules to break and more things to control. Eventually there are more things to lose, making that trajectory even more fun. It’s heavy at times, often making you uncomfortable but if anyone knows Scorsese this is standard. It’s his darkest and most hilarious since Goodfellas and Casino with its brutal showing of honesty in all forms. There doesn’t seem to be a feeling of punches held back, everything comes at you and everything hits you. But it is very refreshing at times and very unapologetic.
There really isn’t much subtlety here; it would rather hit you in the face with a sledgehammer covered in cocaine. But there is a certain inert beauty to it. That sensation of controlled chaos and udder mayhem is infectious and can’t be denied. The artistry to bring out insanity cannot be put to the side as simply crass or gross. This is one of the best movies to bring out the best and worst of unbridled insanity. You can’t help but appreciate it. Sometimes it’s good to revel in the crazy, not everything needs to be so symbolic and subtle all the time. You see Jordan and co go through the wringer wondering when it will end and how but you like them don’t want the fun to stop. Why would anyone want to stop this dangerous ride when it’s so much fun? Like a weekend long coke bender, it has so many ups, downs, lefts, rights, sideways and diagonals you won’t know which way is which. Unlike stronger past Scorsese efforts, this isn’t heavily relied on subtle artistry. It isn’t pretending to be anything it’s not. But the showing of a man in ultimate power corrupted by greed, sex, drugs, and hubris being a stand in for any CEO, politician or mafia kingpin speaks volumes in this climate. If you think about it all three of those are basically the same thing.
The script is the most bipolar that Scorsese has ever been involved with. He picked the perfect writer in Terence Winter who has written under Scorsese in Boardwalk Empire. He has also worked on classic drama The Sopranos, proving he is more than worthy. Terence knows how to craft a script of an inherently unlikeable character, adding layers of emotions, loads of dark humor and making the life of crime instantly watchable. The script is like a laser light show put to words. Every line is littered with vulgar profanity, sprinkled with a touch of vitriol. Past scripts are a little more withdrawn, leaving more room for various subtleties and character emotions. But here everything seems to be going for the fences, attempting a homerun on the very first swing. More often than not they hit, only if it takes an extra swing or two. The way they talk for extended periods of time feels so natural and real. You could really imagine someone having a conversation about the merits of little people. The way it flows going from place to place feels so conclusive. It is very quotable like many Scorsese films but will also turn many people off. But it’s his most daring and inventive script he has ever worked with.
I am laying this down right now; this is his best movie since Goodfellas. Even though I have loved every one of his recent efforts with The Departed being a gangster classic and The Aviator a huge landmark in various areas. But there is just something special about The Wolf Of Wall Street. It’s as if he was waiting for the right moment to tackle Wall Street schmucks after being in the company of gangsters for so long. It’s been so long since a Scorsese movie felt so Scorsese. The slow unfolding of negligence never felt so fun and inviting. There was a distinct feeling that it felt more free and alive than most Scorsese films. His trademarked style which I like to call Scorseseisms is a flutter here. He always focuses on the corruption of the mind in nearly every film he has ever done. It was done in so many ways but not in such a fashion like this. It’s a stark cautionary tale but never wants the characters to learn their lesson. But what would be the point in that? There is an abundance of long steadicam shots overlooking the carnage of a long night out, office romping, or brokers conning duped souls. It’s a big story and it needs a big feel.
He usually does biographies of controversial figures or has characters be influenced by real life controversial figures. And his settings are always strong usually becoming one with the characters. The editing is also top notch. Very quick cuts, overlapping cuts, and sprawling cuts are abound here. I think the high mark for not only the editing but everything in between was the classic Quaalude sequence, hitting its hilarious climax when Popeye is on the screen. The most consistent thing I loved would be the narration by Jordan. He often breaks the fourth wall in comedic fashion to great effect. The way he breaks down the art of the steal to the camera then just stops telling the audience you don’t really care about this do you? It gives the dark feeling throughout the movie a great breezy feel of comfort ability. I also loved the paused camera shots with narration over it. But I feel the ending gave it that much needed pathos that is required for characters of this nature. It really surprised me with showing the fates of FBI agent Patrick Denham and Jordan Belfort. It is made to be depressing and especially in relation to the meeting Patrick and Jordan had on the yacht. The words said held very true with deep resonance to Patrick. Scorsese’s crash and burn style is mesmerizing and unlike any director who has tried, succeeded or failed. Everyone loves a spectacular rise but not as much as a devastating fall.
The soundtrack was awesome as always with many classic 80s and 90s hits playing over and in the background of much of the scenes. Scorsese always knows what song goes best with what scene and is much harder than people think. Of course it will never fit on one single disc. Off the top of my head I can’t remember any signifying musical moments like past Scorsese movies but I did just see it and it was three hours long. Well that is except for the now instant classic Money Chant done by Matthew McConaughey which is catchy as all hell. A lot of people complain about the running time but I really didn’t see a problem with it being that long at all. I adore Scorsese so if he made a ten hour movie id love every second. And it really didn’t feel like three hours. It was a grandiose epic and it needed all the time it needed. Scorsese movies should be mandatory three hours long anyway. Why complain when you have the best in the world doing his thing? Not too many people do three hour crime epics like this anymore anyway. The only genre you see doing that is fantasy or comic book. But not too many can do long movies like that without being winded. More directors should push the boundaries of movie length and not just have it be unnecessary filler. Now I am sure there are other movies that push the boundaries of sex and drugs but this is one of the most epic uses of drug usage on film. It would make Hunter S. Thompson from Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas quell in fear. It is really not for the faint of heart or squeamish. I myself wasn’t disgusted or appalled but many will be. It shouldn’t take away the enjoyment from the film at all. It was shocking but needed, gave you something to really remember. There is lots of sex here too, incredibly graphic for an R without getting the dreaded NC-17. An insane amount of full frontal female nudity is abound here that would make Caligula blush in embarrassment. I was incredibly surprised on how much content they were able to get away with. I can’t wait to see the stuff they left on the cutting room floor. No need to sugarcoat or allude to it. They all did it in excess back then so why not show it in excess in the movie.
It seems like the world of stocks and the people who make the money was begging to be retold in a huge way. It’s simply too good a topic to not be ridiculed or parodied for the ridiculousness that it is. I loved seeing rich white guys act like gangsters with a mafia hierarchy and it’s a formula that needed to be told in this way. With minds that toxic controlling that much capital with so many rich people’s money is bordering on too crazy to be true fantasy territory. But knowing that Wall Street was a direct influence on the real life Jordan Belfort and Boiler Room being influenced by Jordan Belfort makes it all the more real. They got into the issues of corruption very well but felt held back. They weren’t really applied to tell a different story other than the one already told. The Wolf Of Wall Street just made that world already shown so much bigger and much more fun.
For those who are brave enough or willing to just enjoy themselves, one will have an amazing experience watching The Wolf Of Wall Street. But it is certainly not for everyone as it’s extremely graphic, crude and vulgar. But it is also brilliant in its willingness to show the depravity of man in the 21st century. It is often all over the place in many unexpected places you would never find yourself in, but having that unfold before you is a thrill that is hard to duplicate or forget. Scorsese has never been so visceral in his style or content, putting everything out there but the kitchen sink. Leonardo DiCaprio puts another amazing notch on his already sterling belt while Jonah Hill is becoming a comedic/dramatic heavyweight. It pushes boundaries and buttons, excites and disgusts in a world that is often taking things too seriously. A world already full of hypocrisy deserves to have it shown itself a mirror, revealing the greed and hunger for more inside all of us. It was never meant to be pretty but a startling look in a world that many do not know or do not want to be shown. It is not very often that something so outlandish and epic comes out. Everyone should be glad that a legend is still able to put out such impeccable work, never missing a beat while leaving your jaws drop onto the floor. Five Quaaludes out of five.