The first thing you’ll say to yourself as you watch Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street is, “How is this thing not NC-17?”. That will be followed closely by, “Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio certainly do make beautiful music together.”
Wolf is their 5th collaboration, and though it’s not their best (It will take a lot to unseat The Departed), it still emerges as one of the most entertaining of 2013 and is easily among Scorsese’s all-time top 10.
Based on the memoir by hedonistic power broker Jordan Belfort, Wolf comes off like a fiercely satirical and hilarious re-tooling of Oliver Stone’s Wall Street– only high on Quaaludes and set during an orgy. It’s a bevy of sex, drugs, and misogyny that would make Caligula, Tony Montana, and Eminem blush, respectively.
Belfort’s first job is with Rothschild, which promptly goes belly-up on his first day– the October crash of 1987. Down but not out, Belfort then dives into the world of penny stocks and slowly starts making a name (and cash) for himself. Within a few years, he’s got enough capital to start his own firm, and his infamous Stratton Oakmont is born. With his drug-addled partner Donnie Azoff by his side, Belfort embarks on debauchery-fueled trip of cocaine, hookers, and truckloads and truckloads of money.
Writer Terence Winter (The Sopranos) has expertly crafted a screenplay that sucks us quickly into the Wall Street world, and though Belfort is the consummate anti-hero (seriously, there’s not one thing about this guy that’s even close to honorable), you can’t help but be charmed and awed by his charisma. (And, apparently, we’re not the only ones, as he successfully swindled oodles of people out of millions and millions of dollars.) Winter’s outside-the-box decision to have Belfort directly address the camera throughout the film also pays dividends– while he’s selling crap stocks to unsuspecting people, he’s also selling the movie to us.
Even more than Scorsese’s inspired direction, Wolf is powered by DiCaprio’s stellar performance. He gives us a Belfort who’s a hybrid of Sam Kinison (as both profane comic and fire-and-brimstone preacher) and Gordon Gekko. It’s easily DiCaprio’s most brave and uninhibited performance, and it’s exactly what the part requires.
There is room for improvement in Wolf, and it should have come in the editing room, first and foremost. Weighing in at just a minute under three hours, it does start to feel long as some scenes tend to drag a little more than they should, and the ending arrives with a whimper instead of a bang. By and large, though, Belfort’s is a story that only gets more interesting and more captivating as it goes on.
If you can make it through a graphic bit of anatomically puzzling drug sniffing, more than 500 uses of the F-word (that’s according to IMDb– though I’ll wager there are actually many more than that), and the realization that the pillaging of real people’s hard-earned savings is being played for laughs, there’s a lot to like about The Wolf of Wall Street. If not, there’s always that Mary Poppins movie (Saving Mr. Banks).