THE WOLF OF WALL STREET review by Gary Murray – Martin Scorsese turns in a daring 3-hour epic

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET review by Gary Murray – Martin Scorsese turns in a daring 3-hour epic


Martin Scorsese is perhaps (arguably) our greatest living director. Between Goodfellas, Hugo, Gangs of New York, Raging Bull and Taxi Driver, the man has created some of the most iconic films of the last few decades. His movies are studied in film school and in culture classes. Good or bad, all of his works have a certain style and world view. The latest to take over the cinematic screen is The Wolf of Wall Street.

Based on a true story by Jordan Belfort, the tale is of greed and corruption. We meet the fictionalized Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) at the apex of his fame and wealth, a guy who made 49 million in a year. He is hacked off because he was three million short of making a million a week. Belfort has the perfect wife, the perfect trappings and the perfect excessive habits. He is not happy with what he has but wants more. Whether it is drugs, sex or money, this man just wants more.

Then we go back to the beginning. We see a very younger Belfort getting off the bus and wanting to make his way on Wall Street. He eventually befriends Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) who explains that no one on Wall Street knows anything and that the goal is to take the investors money and put it in your pocket. There is only one driving force, to get that money, and there are two keys to success in Hanna’s mind — stay relaxed and use cocaine. The audience knows that this is a volatile mixture.

Eventually, the stock market collapses and Belfort loses his stockbroker job. His rebound comes in working with penny stocks, which draw a 50% commission. Eventually, Belfort opens his own firm and that is when his rise to power begins anew. This time he crafts the perfect sales pitch and recruits the right guys, though some of these men are not the most respectable or honest brokers out there.

As his success grows exponentially so does Belfort’s addictions. He smokes crack with his fellow salesmen as if they are part of some frat boy club. Cocaine and Quaaludes run the office more than business acumen. These guys get hooked on the concept of getting all they can. Donnie (Jonah Hill) is a ‘go along to get along’ type who has his own addictions and indiscretions to deal with. He is not sure if he’s a happily married man or an experimental party boy.

Eventually, Belfort trades his wife up for Naomi (Margot Robbie) a woman who is more of a trophy than a life partner. She is best at two things — shopping and pleasing her man. Even with this beauty, Belfort still needs very expensive prostitutes. It fills his lust of more. The film tells the story of the rise, the downfall and the rise again of a man who cannot just walk away when the opportunity presents itself. It becomes a testament to the excess that was Wall Street at the end of the 20th Century. It is a perfectly crafted and executed window into a world little seen outside the boardroom.

Although Martin Scorsese is not known for making comedy films, The Wolf of Wall Street is the most humorous entry he has crafted. The absurdity behind the mechanics of how brokers make their money becomes both a laugh-filled riot and a sly commentary on the flaws of the system. These are boys playing a man’s game and never seeing the eventual negative consequences. It is a push to get it all, not just a share. When the film turns, it turns hard. It is amazing how well Martin Scorsese goes from comedy to tragedy within a beat during the third act. It is a testament to this master filmmaker who can lull the audience with comedy then land a deafening powerhouse blow of reality.

Lately, Scorsese has become enamored with Leonardo DiCaprio. The director used the actor in Shutter Island, The Departed, The Aviator and Gangs of New York. Much like the pairing of Jimmy Stewart and Alfred Hitchcock, these two seem to have a symbiotic relationship that works on an elemental level. They feed off each other’s strengths to make the entire cinematic exercise work. It is a combination that works for both parties.

This may be Leonardo DiCaprio’s best performance since What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, the role that won him worldwide notice. He is obsessed, driven and manic all within the same beat. He plays to the camera with the timing of Groucho Marx while still being a loveable cad. Even though the audience knows where it is all going to end up, our almost anti-hero has no idea of this downfall. He is blissfully ignorant to the idea that excess leads to exploitation. The destruction of Belfort feeds some kind of basal need to the audience.

Johan Hill delivers yet another interesting and flawed character with his reading of Donnie. He is a guy who doesn’t see the proverbial writing on the wall until it is too late. The actor is proving that he is going to become the character performer of his generation, equally able to handle comedy and drama.

To be warned, this film definitely earns its “R” rating. It is full of nudity and drugs almost from the first frame. It shows drugs over and over again in comic situations with the consequences of overindulgence happening too late to make a moral point. This is not a film for those who are easily offended. It is actually surprising that it did not generate an NC-17 designation from the MPAA.

The Wolf of Wall Street is one of the best films of 2013, and will surely earn Oscar nominations in half dozen categories. Even though it runs three hours, the experience just breezes by with a strong sense of urgency. There are few filler scenes in this opus to greed. Buckle in for a long ride and take this one in, it is definitely worth the investment of time and money.

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET opens December 25, 2013

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