The Wolf of Wall Street – 2013 – dir. Martin Scorsese
My first Scorsese film was The Departed when I was 13 and it has invariably changed the way I watch films and it totally affects the way I watch The Wolf of Wall Street. Wall Street and American Psycho also inform my viewing and the three should really be screened together (Gordon Gekko is even mentioned in the film at one point) because they are all about the same thing: the narcissism, the debauchery, the immorality of unbridled capital. Early in the film Matthew McConaughay points out that Stock Brokers don’t build anything and they don’t care what happens to their clients or the stocks that they trade, they get paid by making people take risky actions and that’s it. The Wolf of Wall Street is a scathing indictment of capitalism and the justice system because it’s telling a joke about that one time a guy got away with stealing millions of dollars and the punch line is that he ended up becoming a motivational speaker teaching people how to do the same thing… that’s funny right?
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort, the founder and CEO of Stratton Oakmont after he lost his job as a broker on black Monday in 1987. He sold penny stocks on high commission to live the most debaucherous lifestyle ever put on film. Hookers, drugs, booze, partying and more of all of that hundreds of times over are played before us between the scenes of him breaking the law as a fraudster and narrating his lifestyle in classic Scorsese fashion.
This film is without a doubt a comedy. As I said in my review of American Hustle sometimes drama’s get mistaken for black comedies but this is not that. This is a hilarious movie and I was laughing in the theatre more than I ever have in recent times. Leonardo DiCaprio is so funny and so manic that you are magnetically drawn to him because of the energy he produces. He seduces you with the glitz and glamour of his lifestyle and as he says when trying to start his company, “Everyone wants to be rich!” But that’s the point of the movie, you laugh at the antics and the ridiculous events that transpire until a point in the film where you realize, “why am I laughing at this.” The debauchery takes its toll and where a lesser film would have outright condemned the acts (2000s Boiler Room did this), this film forces you to understand them, but never sympathize. It doesn’t say, “See, you can understand why I did this, it’s not my fault.” It says “This is wrong and because of my ego I made decisions that hurt thousands of people.”
The key to this film is the editing. Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorsese’s long time editor, makes a three hour movie feel like three hours of a TV show that you’ve chosen to marathon on Netflix. It has peaks and troughs but it never loses your attention. However no editing could have saved this film if it weren’t for the best performance Leonardo DiCaprio has ever given. For someone who has been a fan of both of DiCaprio’s most recent performances (Django Unchained and The Great Gatsby) and all of his collaborations with Scorsese, it was a thrill to see him do something different here. The energy and the verve with which he plays that role is remarkable and for those who feel like there is always something fake to DiCaprio’s performances, this will show what is probably the most honest performance he has ever given. There are moments where the duplicity in his character breaks into something that I’ve never seen in him, a vulnerability that puts on display the façade we’re party to through the whole film. That’s not even to mention the incredibly physical performance he gives (with the best drug addled performance I’ve ever seen).
The rest of the cast is just as rich with three actors who in lesser years could all earn a nomination for supporting actor. Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, and Rob Reiner are all great in the film and along with Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler, Jon Bernthal, Jean Dujardin, and Cristin Milioti provide further insight into Belfort’s character. They are all sounding boards for his ridiculousness and yet you get to know each of them by their reactions.
As for the rest of the Oscars, I have to say it’s a shame that this came in such a strong year of Oscar bait because in an ordinary year this would be a contender for most of the big awards. It will probably garner a nomination for Picture and Editing and potentially Actor, Supporting Actor (for Hill), Screenplay and Director (although I doubt it). It won’t win any of them except possibly for editing unless there is an Argo sized public campaign for it (which given its content it won’t get). If it weren’t for Ejiofor I would have hoped DiCaprio could finally get the statue he so deserves after years and years of great work. The Wolf of Wall Street is a black comedy that wants to make us incredibly uncomfortable. And if you got what the film was trying to say, you would see that it is trying to make you angry with that discomfort. It wants you to be pissed off that no one in the stock business has consequences for their actions. It wants you to realize that those people and that system are not in it for your good, but for their own. And the only way to make that hit home is to make us understand not just why that life is attractive, but why it’s wrong.
Disclaimer: The last picture is from the Huffiington Post website and the first two are screen captures and gifs from the trailer for the film.