The Wolf of Wall Street
The Wolf of Wall Street
Written by Terence Winter
Based on the book by Jordan Belfort
Directed by Martin Scorsese
The rise and fall of a criminal gangster doomed by his own lifestyle is a tale that Americans have loved for decades. Enter The Wolf of Wall Street, the most recent epic. The criminals aren’t the mobsters so familiar with sweeping biopics, but the criminals of the modern era, banksters in business suits. Despite the fall of Belfort happening in the 90s, much of the arc fits will with the most recent financial collapse and the continual work of bankers and Wall Street money men who make millions of dollars by moving fake money around in financial markets.
I saw some people declare that Martin Scorsese was in rare form, or had returned. Like Scorsese is some guy who was being forced to make terrible movies or something. Trust me, Scorsese was making the films he wanted to make, they just weren’t the films some people wanted to watch. If every film was Goodfellas, what’s the point of having Goodfellas?
Jordan Belfort hits Wall Street and learns the ins and outs of success. Basically get on the phone and swear at rich people to buy stocks, earning money off commissions. Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) takes him under his wing with an amazing lunch on the first day that lays the whole corrupting world of money, excess, and power out before them. Hanna is downing alcohol at an alarming rate, and shows off his magic bullet – cocaine! At this point Belfort is a teetotaler during working hours, but as we saw during the opening, he’ll soon be downing more pharmaceuticals than are stocked at your local Walgreens!
DiCaprio’s energetic exuberance continues through the entire film, he’s relentlessly excessive and driving the entire film at warp speed. The matter of fact way he describes the craziness that happens – dwarf tossing, head shaving, drunken drug fueled plane orgies – forces everything and everyone to keep up. Belfort builds his company from nothing, becoming a cult like figure that delivers sermons of greed to his acolytes as they whip themselves into a crazed frenzy of money lust.
Power is corrupting, and Belfort soon moves beyond your typical banker wanting to make six figures to the culture of excess. After Black Monday leaves him jobless on his first day as an official stockbroker, Belfort learns about the world of penny stocks and shady deals. More importantly, he learns about the high commission rates on said penny stocks. Soon he’s taking home a year’s salary on each paycheck. He catches the attention of Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), a working man schlub who quits his job to work for Belfort the second he finds out how much money he makes. Azoff becomes Belfort’s number two, helping him set up his own company staffed by Belfort’s childhood friends, who are mainly street thugs/drug dealers.
Belfort is about the art of the sell. Stocks in those days was getting on a phone, calling someone, and convincing them to invest their money in a stock. It’s a massive shark tank, forcing you to become the best salesman you can (because if you don’t sell, you don’t get paid!) Belfort became king shark in his small penny stock pond thanks to the skills he learned from the big boys, and soon he’s brought in his childhood friends and is starting out on his own.
While The Wolf of Wall Street is DiCaprio’s show, Jonah Hill comes closest to threatening to steal the picture. Belfort’s comfortable and smooth manic excess is countered by Azoff’s lack of control. While characters are friends and respect Belfort, they get into loud fights with Azoff. The contrast between old traditional Wall Street and Belfort’s new company is illustrated when a new hire that resembles one of Belfort’s old bosses (glasses and bow tie) is humilated and fired, Azoff eating his goldfish in front of everyone. Azoff’s irresponsibility causes a mess of troubles, especially after the Feds are on to them.
The ultimate downfall of these characters are themselves, their lifestyles throwing them into making worse and worse decisions. A scene where Belfort and Azoff take the most powerful quaaludes ever turns WOWS into a hilarious physical comedy, the characters reduced to childlike babbling and unable to control their physical motor skills. They’ve literally become the immature infants they’ve been acting.
There are too many good performances in The Wolf of Wall Street, basically everyone is amazing! Margot Robbie as Belfort’s second wife – who runs the gambit from intelligently seductive to manipulative to vengeful. Rob Reiner as Belfort’s dad and perpetually angry oversight manager. Kyle Chandler as the straight arrow FBI agent who breaks up the party.
The weakest part of The Wolf of Wall Street is it doesn’t trust the audience enough to explain much of the criminalizes taking place. Even a discussion of an IPO – a fairly straightforward scenario in stocks – is tossed aside with a “you probably aren’t following” and jumps right to how much money they’re making by being bad. I guess I should read the book, but I don’t think we’re entering final scene of Trading Places territory. Though taping stacks of bills to ex-strippers for smuggling into secret bank accounts does make better visual entertainment. My only other complaint is the theater it was screening at was too far from the bathroom, making my mad dashes during the three hour running time more frantic than I’d like. The time it runs was not an issue, the film keeps the energetic pace for the entire length of time.
A modern criminal biopic, The Wolf of Wall Street is a needed piece to remind us of who the villains of today are. And never fear, they will be caught so they can get a slap on the wrist while the rest of us hope and pray we have enough saved for retirement so we don’t die in the streets. America!
Rated 9/10 (by the horns, not suspicious at all, wife seduction, selective memory, tossing, bullseye, eating, can’t find the sailboat, drug time!)
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