The Wolf of Wall Street might be the funniest film of 2013, even as it’s often depraved and despicable.
The film is the latest by Martin Scorsese, diving into the work of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), a stockbroker who found a kink in the system and exploited it for millions, illegalities be damned. It’s based on Belfort’s book about his real life exploits. Said exploits contain a lot of drugs, mounds of women and little in the way of character depth.
The movie is tremendous and an enigma. Wolf of Wall Street doesn’t say anything new about greed in America. It doesn’t feature an innately compelling plot. It doesn’t really go much into the mindset of its lead character. What it does in spades is keep up a rapid, energetic pace for just short of three hours that hints at all of the allures of excess, with dialogue that bites like a starving tiger.
Terence Winter’s script sets the stage, Scorsese throws us directly into the chaos, letting scenes take their time to gestate, while DiCaprio gives arguably the best performance of his career. Always an actor with a magnetic screen presence, DiCaprio has sometimes been a bit highstrung in his acting. He has never been looser than he is as Belfort; id given flesh. His smile is devlish, featuring an inviting demeanor, free from the burden of once more playing a guy whose love of his life is dead or just out of reach. There is a scene in the last act allowing DiCaprio to display the kind of physical comedy few could display; he does it astoundingly.
The rest of the ensemble is up to snuff too, with small parts by Kyle Chandler, Cristin Milloti, Spike Jonze and Matthew McConaughey all sticking out memorably. Then there is Jonah Hill, a heinous beast in his own right. With the creepiest white teeth imaginable, Hill shills, lies and snorts to notable effect,
In the bones of the movie is a takedown of America’s obsession with more. More is better, no matter who or what is trampled to get it. Scorsese lets the debauchery breathe, sticking in slices of the other-side, the 99% as contrast. He doesn’t comment on them prominently, yet they’re inclusion is felt. The hints we get at the life of Kyle Chandler’s federal agent are meant to say that while money can buy happiness, it won’t purchase true contentedness. A terrific feature by one of cinema’s all-time greats.
The Wolf of Wall Street opens wide in Seattle today.