In a world full of an over-abundance of fraud, sex, schemes, drugs, deception, and money-laundering, Leonardo DiCaprio seems to fit right in at the center of The Wolf of Wall Street. This movie was supposed to come out in late November and almost got bumped to January, but Martin Scorcese pulled it together fast enough for a Christmas release date instead, making it eligible for Oscar consideration. And counting the times that DiCaprio has worked with Scorcese, it's pretty safe to say that the two will continue working together until Scorcese gets the actor an Oscar win, which Leo's been deserving of for awhile, if we're to be honest with ourselves.
Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) is a stock broker. His first job on Wall Street is working for Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), who basically sets up the whole movie and teaches a young, fresh-faced and innocent Belfort how things are run on Wall Street. But months to a year in, Belfort loses his job when the firm closes its doors and he's left working as a penny-broker at a small firm on Long Island. His persuasive skills are exemplary and soon enough, he's opening up his own stock broker company with Donnie (Jonah Hill), who quits his job upon meeting Jordan and finding out he made $72,000 the month before. Jordan's friends Chester Ming (Kenneth Choi), Brad (Jon Bernthal), and a couple of other join him and grow the business from a few people to and office where it's easy to lose the head count.
After that, chaos ensues. Strippers, prostitutes, monkeys, playing darts with a human being as the arrow, fraud, drug addictions, sex addictions, and an addiction to making millions, befalls Jordan and his merry men (and a couple of women, though there are no strong female leads in this film, which takes it down a notch) and attracts the FBI agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler). Jordan continues living the over-zealous and excessive life he's been living until it all finally catches up with him.
Scorsese's film is based on the book by the real Jordan Belfort, highlighting his rise and fall on Wall Street. And Scorsese does a generally good job of translating that to the screen. The Wolf of Wall Street is funny, and absolutely, yet somehow believably, ridiculous. And while I've always loved and appreciated Scorsese's films, Wolf falls a little short. It starts out strong, shows us the life Jordan has built for himself, but by the second half it feels like a repetition of everything that comes before. Yes, it's understood that the excess of drugs and sex are a huge part of Jordan's lifestyle, but it simply goes on for too long. How many times do we have to see Jordan and Donnie get high? How many times do naked prostitutes have to show up on screen before it just gets tiring, annoying, and becomes useless to the plot?
The film's run time is three hours and the second half of the film could have been trimmed down enough without losing any of the film's plot integrity. It almost feels like Scorcese gets a little out of control with his own material at times, so some might be staring at watches at some point and wondering why we keep seeing some of the same things over and over.
The strengths of this movie are in its performances. Regardless of longevity and excess, Leo DiCaprio is one of the most outstanding actors of his time. His portrayal of Belfort, no matter how insane and unpredictable in nature, is fantastic from start to finish. DiCaprio is funny, off-the-wall, and wildly unhinged. He's out of control all while his character's trying to stay in control. He carries the film like it's nothing at all and no matter how psychotic things get, Leo plays every emotion. Let's just say he's a beast.
One of the most surprising performances comes from Jonah Hill, who plays Jordan's best friend Donnie. Hill usually sticks to comedies, and there's no doubt that Wolf is a comedy, but he goes above and beyond anything we've ever seen him in and kind of breaks away from the barriers he's molded himself into. He holds his own opposite Leo and that alone is impressive. The two also have this weirdly entertaining semi-bromantic chemistry that makes the film worth watching.
The film has several great supporting roles in the forms of Jon Favreau, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Margot Robbie, etc., but none quite make as big an impression as Matthew McConaughey does in the ten minutes or so that he's in the film. His role isn't large, but his impact on the film as a whole is and you'll see that impact play out in every scene following his exit. From the advice to the chest pounding, the scene in the restaurant with Leo is probably one of the most memorable of the film.
To sum it all up, The Wolf of Wall Street is a generally well-done film. It's weaknesses lie in its unnecessary repetitiveness in the second half of the film (which makes its run time feel stretched) and in its lack of strong female characters (because the majority of them are prostitutes or neglected wives). The comedic timing is perfect and although it's not Scorsese's best film by a long shot, the performances by Leo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill, and the fact that it's a comedy rather than a drama makes it an entertaining watch.