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Friday, December 20, 2013

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET Review

Leonardo DiCaprio is Jordan Belfort in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, from Paramount Pictures and Red Granite Pictures.
Photo credit: Paramount Pictures
© 2013 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET 
2013, 179 minutes
Rated for sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language throughout, and for some violence

Review by Joshua Handler

How is Jordan Belfort still alive?  That is one of the many questions that linger after viewing The Wolf of Wall Street, the film based on Belfort's memoir.  Belfort's life was insane - he took every drug he could get his hands on, slept with any women he laid his eyes on, and made more money than most towns could lay their hands on.  In short, his life was extreme.

The Wolf of Wall Street tells Belfort's story, from his first days on Wall Street to his ultimate demise.  Directed with ample energy by Martin Scorsese and featuring a jaw-droppingly physical performance by Leonardo DiCaprio, Wolf finds this duo at the top of their respective games and may be their best collaboration yet.  This drug-fueled trip into the lives of Wall Street stockbrokers is outrageous in every way.  It is also an ironic follow-up to Scorsese's previous film, Hugo, as Wolf is probably Scorsese's most explicit film, Hugo being his most family-friendly.  Scorsese and screenwriter Terence Winter (Boardwalk Empire) push the R-rating to the limit (the film was heavily cut to avoid an NC-17 rating) - it is rare to see a mainstream go this far in every respect.  

This film comes at a time where films about American excess and greed are in.  As we move out of the economic depression that has burdened our country for the past few years, we are seeing more and more films about American greed and the lengths people will go to in order to achieve the American Dream.  This year, we've seen The Bling RingAmerican Hustle, and now The Wolf of Wall Street, three films that center around people trying their best to achieve the American Dream.  Amusingly enough, all three films focus on people achieving the Dream through illegal means.  Of the three, The Wolf of Wall Street leaves the greatest impact, not least because of the lengths it goes to show just how out of control some people get while trying to live the Dream.  Jordan Belfort is a man who lives for money.  His entire life is money.  He's addicted to it.  During the opening voice-over, Belfort (played by DiCaprio) tells us that he takes every kind of drug imaginable, but the most addictive drug is money.  

Terence Winter's screenplay makes watching this horrifying story endlessly watchable with his fully-developed characters, witty dialogue, and unconventional storytelling devices.  Winter makes great use of voice-over, something that is looked down upon by many for being a cop-out.  Instead of using the voice-over for pure exposition, Winter uses it to enhance the story.  During a few scenes, the voice-over is used to comment on whatever action is happening onscreen.  Additionally, there are some asides that allow the Belfort character to explain something to the audience.  However, these asides never break the flow of the movie since they are not used to interrupt a scene.  Instead, they are built into the structure of a scene to make the scene work.  In lesser hands, these storytelling devices would have come across as clumsy and disrupted the film's pace.

Winter and Scorsese do not judge Belfort.  While they do not condone his behavior (they show it in all of its depravity), they don't chastise him.  The Wolf of Wall Street isn't a message movie - it is simply a tale of a man trying to live the American Dream to its fullest.  You may be wondering then, what is the point?  This film is a continuation of a theme Scorsese has explored in countless films such as Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and Hugo: the struggle to make dreams become reality.  Raging Bull is a film about the failure to live dreams.  Hugo is about making dreams reality.  The Wolf of Wall Street is about what happens when a person wants more after making their dream a reality.
     
Belfort is expertly played by Leonardo DiCaprio.  This performance is what his entire career has been leading to, as it merges DiCaprio's charisma with his serious acting skills.  At the beginning, Belfort is an enthusiastic young man wanting to make an honest living for himself on Wall Street.  By the end, he is an unrepentant criminal.  DiCaprio's mastery of his craft here is powerful to watch.  This is a performance that both requires him to be both a physical comedian and a dramatic powerhouse (the Quaalude high gone wrong is an example of the former, the scenes where he gives speeches to the Stratton Oakmont office are an example of the latter).  Through this constantly evolving performance, DiCaprio comes to embody the monster that is Jordan Belfort and carries this three-hour film from start to finish.  

As Donnie Azoff, Belfort's business partner and best friend, Jonah Hill proves once again that he is as gifted a comedian as he is a dramatic actor.  Hill's scenes with DiCaprio showcase both of their knacks for improvisation and also their chemistry.  

The supporting cast is also great.  Margot Robbie is sharp as Belfort's second wife, Rob Reiner is hilariously irreverent as Belfort's father, but Matthew McConaughey steals the show in his handful of scenes near the beginning of the film.  McConaughey plays Mark Hanna, Belfort's first boss.  As many of you have likely witnessed from the trailer, Hanna is a bit offbeat, what with his habit of chest thumping and humming during lunch.  McConaughey nails every detail and then some.

Overall, The Wolf of Wall Street is another stunning achievement by Martin Scorsese.  The energy on display here feels like the energy of a 20-year-old, not a 71-year-old.  The Wolf of Wall Street may be his longest film to date (Casino being the second longest at 178 minutes), but it charges along at a breathless pace.  As a continuation of Scorsese's exploration of the American Dream, it is every bit as thematically rich, dementedly entertaining, and meticulously-crafted as any film he's made.  In short, this is a masterpiece of America Cinema.

4/4

3 comments:

  1. Terrific review. Josh liked Wolf more than I did. I liked his review better than I liked the movie.

    John

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  2. The Wolf of Wall Street is a good flick. It's fast paced, entertaing, has a LOT of energy and doesn't stop until the credits roll. It's a very enjoyable flick with lots of style but little substance. I liked it quite a bit.

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