Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, Rob Reiner, Kyle Chandler, Margot Robbie, Joanna Lumley, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin, Christine Ebersole
Who's in for a three hour ride full of drugs, debauchery, profanity, and horrible people? I do not think Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) quite knew what was in store for him when he decided to become a stockbroker. A luncheon meeting with his new boss Mark Hanna (McConaughey) becomes a lesson on what it will take to survive in this market. He recommends an excessive supply of cocaine, martinis, and prostitutes to get through the average day in the world of stocks and trading. That company folds quickly and Belfort joins another dumpy firm to keep working. He quickly becomes the best broker by making tens of thousands of dollars in a short period selling penny stocks to innocent naïve individuals.
His quick rise to wealth and riches leads him to opening his own brokerage firm, Stratton Oakmont, with his neighbor Donnie Azoff (Hill). They underwrote numerous fraudulent IPOs, and it is not long before that company makes Jordan a fortune. Millions of dollars are coming into his pocket like it’s no big deal. The office is a bed of wild antics, parties, prostitutes, drugs, alcohol, and naked marching bands to amp up their energy and power to keep the business going. Jordan and Donnie live on a constant high from the excessive lifestyle and let no one and nothing stop them from going further into the rabbit hole, not even FBI Agent Patrick Denham (Chandler) who is bound to take down Belfort.
It is shocking and disturbing that this is all based on a true story. Screenwriter Terence Winter (TV's "The Sopranos") has adapted his wordy script from the memoir of the same name by Jordan Belfort. The end credits do state that some of it was dramatized and some of the names have been changed, but I have a feeling the majority of the film is plausible and should be noted that it is coming from Belfort's point of view. Once Belfort got in too deep his life was so extravagant and excessive, you wonder how he never died in the process with all the liquor, cocaine, and Quaaludes that were consumed. Scorsese and DiCaprio produced the film, which is their fifth collaboration together as director and actor. I still hold that The Departed is my favorite film of theirs. They have chosen to not hold back in regards to how excessive they want their film to be to match the life Belfort led. From the first ten minutes, the audience is blasted with the profanity, nudity, sex, and drugs that comprise the three hour long film. Yes, you read that correct. I do not mean a few "F" words. The Internet Movie Database states it is used 506 times, making it the most used in any Scorsese picture over Casino or Goodfellas. I warn you now as your ears will bleed if you object to that word. I am a bit desensitized after all these years so it does not affect me as much. I also find it very believable that it was the standard vernacular for Belfort and his gang of cohorts. The sex and nudity is never ending with the amount of prostitutes Belfort engages in. The abundance of all of this will inevitably turn people away. There was a group of five or six people when I saw it that left five minutes after the film started and never came back.
If you can get passed all of that, hopefully you will be as intrigued as I was. I have extreme patience for long movies. The three hour run time did not bother me, as I was fascinated by the story as I wondered how long Belfort's horrendous behavior and deceitful nature would keep going. The film does feel like three hours as it is a very extensive and thorough look into Belfort's reign as "The Wolf of Wall Street". In an interview with longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker, she revealed that the originally cut of the film was four hours long. Even though I do not mind the length, I still think it could be shorter and tightened up a bit. The film does a decent job at conveying the disturbing affect that greed, money, wealth, and power has on people. This story is solely focused on Belfort and his rise and how it affected the close-nit people around him. Scorsese and DiCaprio have received some push back regarding how the film portrays Belfort and the hurricane of debauchery that is unleashed. Some viewers are critical on how they think the two of them have glorified and glamorized the story to not show off the true nature of Belfort's actions. While I do not necessarily agree with that completely, I would have liked to have learned more about the aftermath and what happened with some of the victims that were affected by his illegal pump and dump schemes. I do not get the impression that they are condoning his actions or are trying to make him out to be some sort of hero or victim of the times. There are many scenes that portray the disturbing and disgusting sides of Belfort which are some of the harder scenes to watch as you cringe watching him destroy his family.
One thing you can always bank out of a Scorsese picture is stellar actors giving powerhouse performances. Let me just throw it out there that I am a big fan of Leonardo DiCaprio. I have been following his career ever since the “Growing Pains” days and have been a great admirer of his choice in projects and what he brings to each role. I think he is too often thought of as just a pretty boy actor and passed aside like your average heartthrob. I always see him giving each character his all in a fully embodied portrayal. He gives no less than that as Jordan Belfort, which I would rank as the best performance of his career. I would venture to bet that he is in 98% of the movie in a very physically, emotionally, and mentally draining role. As Jordan’s second wife, Margot Robbie (About Time, TVs “Pan Am”) gives a fierce and vulnerable performance and can easily go head to head with the cast at such a young age. Whether you want to believe it or not, Jonah Hill may just receive another Oscar nomination as Jordan’s business partner and friend. Even though much of his stuff is very Jonah at times, it completely works and he can be downright hilarious. I would venture to guess he and Leo were given liberties to ad-lib and play around at times. They make a great duo together, which I would not have expected going in. There are many great cameos and smaller roles along the way from the likes of Jean Dujardin, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, and Matthew McConaughey.
One of the best ways I can describe the latest opus from Martin Scorsese is that it is polarizing. It will leave audiences divided. There will be plenty of people who are turned off from the language and sex and disgraceful people it focuses on. There will be others like myself that dive into it and are left baffled at how people like this exist that do not seem to have any consciousness of their actions. Their lifestyle is so beyond my everyday life. It has been a few days since I saw it, and the film and its subject matter have been stuck on my mind. I went in being a hardcore Marty and Leo fan expecting it to be this grand masterpiece that would be in my top of the year list. I have mentioned it before that I should not go in with such expectations as I most likely will come out disappointed. The Wolf of Wall Street was not the masterpiece I was hoping it would be. There is a disappointment to it on that level. I would have liked to have it structured a bit differently, and it cut down a bit more in length. It opened up my knowledge of the stock market, insider trader, money laundering, and that whole world to which I am a bit naïve about. Scorsese‘s cast led by the ballsy Leonardo DiCaprio, crazy Jonah Hill, and fierce Margot Robbie sucked me into these characters which I found fascinating and disturbing. I think it requires a second, if not third, viewing soon to take it all in again. For a three hour movie, I think there are some elements and choices I may have missed. Who knows I may grow to enjoy it even more or grow frustrated with it.
RATING: **** (4 out of 5 stars)