Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) loves all kinds of drugs. He loves cocaine, he loves alcohol, he really loves his Quaaludes, but the thing that really gets him off and takes him over the edge...is making money. Starting out at the bottom of Wall Street and eventually creating his very own Stock Broker empire, Belfort was a man of the people, but the problem was that the only people he seemed to care anything about were his army of self trained brokers whose job it was to sweet talk the lower class into handing over their hard earned cash for shares in companies that were anything but a sure thing.
His way of life becomes threatened when the FBI begins taking a closer look at this operation which Belfort takes almost as a personal challenge. After staying one step ahead of his Federal pursuers for a number of years, their grasp begins to tighten around the self made millionaire playboy and just when he thinks he has everything figured out, he discovers that he might not have been nearly as smart as he thought when things begin to go horribly wrong at every turn leaving him and his company at the mercy of those very people he stole from.
Martin Scorsese is one of the great titans of the film industry. His contributions to film over the decades have had an immeasurable impact on both pop culture and the art of film in general. That being said though, as history has taught us, even the most talented and most revered filmmakers are capable of a dud from time to time. While The Wolf of Wall Street is far from a dud, it certainly feels as though the filmmaker wasn't trying as hard as we have become accustomed to and delivered an entertaining film that seems to be lacking in some rather surprising areas.
You need to understand something, saying a Martin Scorsese film is not perfect means that it is better than nearly 90% of the rest of the dredge that Hollywood shovels out to us each year. Even when his films come up lacking, you can always count on them having a stellar cast, beautiful cinematography and an impeccable amount of detail on the subject the film is covering. Scorsese likes to pay attention to those little things that other filmmakers don't think are worth the time simply because most won't even notice it or care that it was included.
For instance, there is an underlying theme that runs all throughout Wolf of Wall Street which is the constant drug use by Jordan Belfort. His drug of choice (besides money) are Quaaludes, and while his addiction to them provides plenty of thrills, chills and some very surprising laughs, it really isn't necessary that we know the history of the drug itself since it doesn't pertain to the story at hand. But he still goes that extra mile to give an almost historical re-accounting for how the drug came to be, why it was banned and how it effected the drug market. It's a detail that we perhaps didn't need, but it is just one of the dozens upon dozens of little nuggets he uses to help expand on the crazy life of Jordan Belfort.
This excessive attention to detail though can be a double edged sword if by chance the details begin to overshadow the central story at hand. One of Belfort's biggest vices for his company, Stratton Oakmont, was the extensive amount of partying that Belfort and his co-workers would partake in on numerous occasions. It seemed as though after every successful month, year, sale or acquisition, a party would soon follow that had no less than the entire firm naked, drunk and screwing their brains out in. This would occur at the office, in bathrooms, in hotel rooms, on airplanes and on occasion in Belfort's own home.
This party all the time mentality may have been a commonplace thing for Belfort and his lackeys, but Scorsese went a little overboard here by focusing a little too much on Belfort's playboy antics and very little time on his business which was relegated to more of a background story. While it is important to know that what led to Belfort's eventual downfall was his incessant need to party all the time and take huge risks that usually made little to no sense, it wasn't necessary to clutter up a film that is already pushing the 3 hour mark with party after party after party. By the time we see DiCaprio with a lit candle sticking out of his ass as he is punished by his dominatrix named Venice, we have most certainly gotten the point. But the debauchery continues regardless without an end in sight.
The reason any of this is a problem is because the one major failing of the film is its lack of interest in what it was that Belfort actually did to become the millionaire Wall Street tycoon that he eventually became. Early on in the film we get a very brief glimpse of the man before he became the corrupt son of a bitch that occupies the other 2 hours and 45 minutes of screentime where he meets his one and only mentor played by Matthew McConaughey, in yet another fantastic role making this probably the best year of his career.
We get a very brief moment where Belfort learns that the key to becoming the best Wall Street broker to ever sell a share was to jerk off at least twice a day, snort cocaine whenever possible and call, call, CALL! That advice later turns Belfort into a kingpin of sorts, but other than that and a brief summation by his next boss who explains that pink sheets garner a 50% commission as opposed to the 1 and 2 percent he was getting in Wall Street, there is nothing there to explain how this process works or more importantly, why it works.
This is a fairly major oversight considering the entire film is based around Belfort's business, which leaves the layman wondering how any of this actually works. Then when you realize instead of getting even the slightest of explanations, we get to see Leo's ass multiple times and Jonah Hill as Belfort's right hand man whip out his penis during a party and commence to jerk off, the film as a whole seems to lose sight of the real story at hand, Belfort's business, and the real focus of the story which isn't so much Belfort's continued substance abuse, but the much more interesting ins and outs of his illegal practices and how he pioneered a new way for Wall Street to become corrupt.
Now, as mentioned before, these flaws would be detrimental to any other film that wasn't directed by Martin Scorsese. But even in his excessive oversight, Scorsese has still delivered a film that remains engaging and always entertaining from beginning to end, if not a bit too long for its own good. Like always, his casting choices are beyond perfection and starting with his favorite leading man DiCaprio, who is in full on party mode for nearly the entire film, the film isn't lacking in the talent department.
As mentioned earlier there is the very brief appearance by McConaughey and Jonah Hill playing a very sleazy role just a little too convincingly. One of the more surprising highlights of the film though was Margot Robbie as Belfort's second wife who despite having to go through a number of different emotional highs and lows never fails to keep up with DiCaprio's constant crazy antics. Even the brief appearance by Jon Bernthal as Belfort's friend/thug from the old days makes a good and memorable impression.
Scorsese also saw fit to include a slew of other directors to appear in his film for no other reason than to perhaps have the largest cast full of actor/directors ever assembled with the likes of Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau and even Spike Jonze who is uncredited for his role. All of this talent helps make overlooking any inherent flaws the film has a very easy thing to do because regardless of whether or not it is focusing on the right or wrong thing, it never ceases to be entertaining.
Unfortunately none of those actors play any characters that garner even the slightest bit of sympathy though, as they all are quite honestly the largest group of self centered, egotistical and self appreciating lot of assholes you have ever seen assembled in one place. While Belfort belts out one inspirational speech after another, they are speeches where he is literally telling his workers to rob, steal and pillage from the working class man, then go buy a second or third home with the money and proceed to screw your brains out as often as possible.
These are people who at one point claim to love America because it allows them to make all this money, but then turn around and condemn America for coming after them when they are caught doing something illegal that makes them all this money. This all makes the excessive partying even more tiresome as we are essentially just watching criminals celebrate ripping us off over and over again and it just all wears thin after a while, especially with no characters other than the FBI agent played by Kyle Chandler for us to identify with.
The Wolf of Wall Street is a hard movie to love and a very easy one to dismiss, but at its core beneath all the sex and villainy going on is a tale of how an individual thought they could obtain the American dream by cheating everyone else out of it and, while successful for far longer than he should have been, then watching it all crumble before him. This is far from the best movie released this year and even further from the best film from Martin Scorsese, but it does have its merits if you are willing to sit in a theater for 3 hours and deal with the parts that don't work.