Martin Scorsese has made all kinds of films during his career, from ultraviolent gangster flicks to a meditation on the life of the Dalai Lama. But even Scorsese completists will admit that he has never done a film like his latest, The Wolf of Wall Street.
Based on the autobiography of stock trader-turned-felon Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), the movie chronicles Belfort’s rise from nobody to one of the biggest players in the stock trading business. He accomplishes this by being a ruthless power monger, taking risks and, oh yeah, defrauding people who trust him with their hard-earned money.
But the film, written by Terence Winter (The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire), is no drama. Rather, it’s a raucous comedy that lets the audience live vicariously through Belfort and his extravagant lifestyle even as we recognize that he’s a despicable human being.
The amount of drugs, profanity and nudity on display in this film is staggering. The debauchery reaches levels rarely depicted on screen.
By “extravagant,” I mean insanity the likes of which has rarely been depicted onscreen. The amount of drugs, profanity and nudity on display in this film is staggering. In the three-hour movie, hardly five minutes goes by between scenes of Belfort and his cohorts sniffing lines of cocaine, having sex or sniffing lines of cocaine while having sex, among other depravities.
Scorsese’s staging of that madness gives the actors free rein to be as wild as they want to be. Scenes depicting the bacchanal that is a Wall Street office during trading hours give way to literal orgies, often in those same offices. These scenes often contain hundreds of people, all of whom look crazed enough to run through a wall.
Amazingly, the director keeps the film from being completely bananas. Although he never bogs down the story with too many details of the fraud Belfort is committing, he provides enough information to give the film a good plot.
He also elicits great performances across the board, starting with DiCaprio's. Even in a year packed with outstanding leading-man roles, DiCaprio stands out. From minute one, he doesn’t hold back one iota, making him and the film a blast to watch.
The same could be said for Jonah Hill, who plays Belfort’s right-hand man, Donnie Azoff. With huge, blindingly white teeth and a thick accent, Hill is the perfect foil for DiCaprio, pushing him when he needs to be pushed and even overshadowing him at certain points.
Even though most of them don’t have the name recognition of DiCaprio and Hill, the supporting cast is equally adept at delivering on Scorsese’s vision and making the stars look good. And don’t miss Matthew McConaughey, who shows up for a brief but memorable stint early in the film.
The Wolf of Wall Street is something of a conundrum, as it’s neither a high-minded condemnation of the greed of people like Jordan Belfort nor an endorsement of what he accomplished. But it is a hilarious, outrageous film that shows that Scorsese still knows how to surprise after all these years.