You have to hand it to Martin Scorsese. At age 71 with dozens of classics under his belt to which he directed, he still has the courage to make a provocative fireball of a movie like The Wolf of Wall Street.
The Wolf of Wall Street chronicles the fast track lifestyle of real life wall street broker Jordan Belfort. Belfort is played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who soaks in the shadiness with a boisterous role that challenges the actor in unimaginable ways.
It can be argued that living a filthy rich life whilst being surrounded by dazzling women is not too far of a stretch for the charming actor. However, this is definitely the first time a film has asked DiCaprio to play a hard-edged, untrustworthy loud money grubber who has to hold a balance between being charismatic and being a smarmy ass.
There’s been a lot of talk about whether Scorsese’s film exposes Belfort and his excessive ways in too much of a positive light. According to The Wolf of Wall Street, partaking in lots of partying as well as snorting and huffing a lot of drugs didn’t put Belfort on too much of a crash course. The film proposes that his debauchery may have made him more likeable towards co-workers and opened more business opportunities for the millionaire. Scorsese doesn’t shy away from any consequences, however.
We see that Belfort’s work is all fun and games, but it never detracts from why these activities are considered lewd and criminal. We like watching the insanity unfold and watching these guys get into trouble during the calamities, but the audience never wishes to be involved in any way.
It’s the American dream turned on its ear. The satire is always noticeable and Scorsese doesn’t rub our face in it – no matter how wild the film’s life gets.
Terence Winter (who is adapting from Belfort’s autobiography) does a fine job at keeping the attitude of his screenplay upbeat but also maintaining the criticalness of what happened in Belfort’s turmoil. You may question how much the screenwriter has elaborated for heightened visuals, but The Wolf of Wall Street doesn’t step away from the central truth of a situation.
What I admire most about Scorsese’s latest is that he isn’t afraid for his film to dabble in other genres. It’s almost protocol by this point for biopics to be a little stuffy for fear that the film may disrespect the subject. It’s better to play it safe than to stick your neck out and possibly be offensive.
Given the nature and riskiness of Belfort’s acts, Scorsese comprehends that a lot of what happened could have stronger resonance if the zippy tone oscillates between being a routine recap and trailing into a slapstick cartoon. And, that’s what the filmmaker does fantastically.
Understandably, labelling specific sequences as simply “slapstick cartoons” undercuts the impact of these scenes. There’s more to them outside of the comedy. There’s one extended scene where Belfort and his cohort Donnie Azoff (played to great effect by Jonah Hill) ingest expired drugs. The delayed hallucinogenic trip, however, makes the boys pay a price at a tricky time.
The physical comedy is brilliantly played for hilarious results, all the while mirroring the characters’ high stakes. It’s one of the most memorable movie moments from 2013.
These funnier times don’t deter the momentum though. The film manages to still make stockbroker politics into a topic that is easy for us to follow, and we get loads of hearty moments from the supporting cast.
Along the way, the movie touches upon office behaviours that teeter on fraternity antics. Scorsese even humours the fact that Belfort could’ve been seen as a god amongst the penny stocks, prostitutes, and copious amounts of blow and quaaludes. Scorsese, being a smart guy, doesn’t plunge too much into that heavy-handed symbolism and focuses more on the qualities of Stratton Oakmont that made employees feel protected and invulnerable when faced with any sort of measure. It’s when the film has to take on another balancing act: utmost joy and foreboding misfortune.
The Wolf of Wall Street is a three hour film that moves along nicely. That isn’t to say the film could be trimmed here and there to make the overall experience even more digestible to the average Joe who’s only here for the office antics. But, if those movie goers are game enough to endure unthinkable inhabited wackiness and dirty money, they’re going to be thrilled with where the movie takes them.
To those who may find the crassness to be a bit much: there’s still a razor sharp script apparent and enough praiseworthy performances and versatile direction to send you home with a smile.