Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Movie Review: "The Wolf of Wall Street"

Pairing with Martin Scorsese has proven to be a pretty potent decision for Leonardo DiCaprio—in Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island, and now, The Wolf of Wall Street, he's turned in some exceptional performances. And Scorsese, now in his early 70s, continues to demonstrate his trademark skill in increasingly diverse movies.

The Wolf of Wall Street is based on the real-life story of Jordan Belfort, a New York boy who became a stockbroker in the late 1980s and rose to great heights, fueled by his own voracious greed as well as the siren call of drugs and sex, only to become a cautionary example of fraud years later. When the movie opens, Belfort (DiCaprio) is ready for his first day on Wall Street when he catches the eye of the firm's senior broker (Matthew McConaughey, still thin from Dallas Buyers Club). In one scene-stealing, totally off-the-wall lecture, you can't take your eyes off McConaughey as he shares with Jordan the veritable keys to the kingdom—and they're not the traditional ones you learn in business school.

After the stock market crash of 1987 tanks Belfort's career (along with thousands of other stockbrokers), he winds up at a smaller and less reputable firm which sells penny stocks to working class citizens who probably can't afford to buy them, yet are drawn to the idea of owning stocks. It is there Belfort harnesses the sales skills he took from Wall Street, and in a matter of minutes he wows his colleagues with his prowess and quickly becomes the one to emulate. He meets WASP wannabe Donnie Azoff (a buck-toothed Jonah Hill), who sees in Belfort all he wants to be, and this admiration and adulation leads Belfort to start his own firm.

Molding his sad-sack band of wannabe brokers in his own image, Belfort's firm achieves astronomical success, making all of them more money than they could ever dream of. And this money attracts both positive and negative attention—Belfort begins an affair with, and ultimately marries, Naomi (Margot Robbie), and the meteoric rise of his firm catches the eye of dogged FBI investigator Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler), who just knows that all is not on the up-and-up, and he is determined to bring Belfort and his comrades down to earth.

In depicting the excesses that Belfort and his band of brothers partake in—drugs of every kind; sexual debauchery in every shape, color, and size; strippers; fistfights; even catapulting midgets toward a target—the film frequently reaches a riotous, almost music video-like pace. These segments occur with more and more frequency the richer that Belfort and his firm become, but there are only so many times you can see this frenzy played out before you get numb to it. (Although I could do without ever seeing Jonah Hill's rear end again.) It's almost as if Scorsese, in trying to demonstrate the excesses of Belfort's life, decided that being visually excessive would be more effective.

As you might imagine, all good things must come to an end, and as the FBI draws closer and closer, Belfort gets more and more frantic to try and find a solution. He considers cutting a deal and walking away from his firm, but the thrill of being the king keeps pulling him back in. DiCaprio is at his best in his most manic moments, when he's leading so-called "sales meetings," cheering his employees on, and declaring that nothing short of a jackhammer will remove him from his company—it's like Gordon Gekko's "Greed is good" speech on steroids.

Running one minute short of three hours, The Wolf of Wall Street is about 45 minutes too long. Watching DiCaprio flail about as his life is circling the drain isn't nearly as compelling as watching his rise to success, and I just wished that the story would bring itself to the ending I expected a little quicker than it did.

The movie had some terrific performances—in addition to DiCaprio, Hill and Robbie are quite good in their roles. But much like the time period it depicted, in the end, the movie was a little more bloated than it needed to be. With a little bit of trimming, it could have packed even more of a wallop.


  1. DiCaprio made The Wolf happen. Put this performance on Fast Blast for the HW community. Give the actor a Triple O at Oscar time for his brilliant output.

  2. It makes you laugh till your sides hurt

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