Director Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio team up on their fifth collaboration with ‘The Wolf of Wall Street.’ It is a hyperactive three-hour thrill ride with outrageous moments that personifies the decadent excesses of the late ‘80s. This is signature Scorsese at his finest with manic dialogue, rapid-fire editing and shady characters. Some may be put off by the nudity, profanity and drug use throughout the film but that’s Scorsese’s intention. He wants the audience to experience the vulgar excesses of Wall Street. Scorsese comments in a recent interview, “If it raises the ire of some people that might be a good thing because it makes you think about it.” It’s a remarkably funny and dark indictment of capitalism run amok.
Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) is the epitome of an opportunist. He goes to Wall Street to strike it rich. After getting a job at a brokerage firm, he learns the ropes from his boss, Mark Hamma (a very good, Matthew McConaughey) at a power lunch filled with martinis and vials of cocaine. Unfortunately, Jordan’s timing is wrong and he experiences 1987’s Black Monday. Jordan gets fired but not dispirited. He reinvents himself selling worthless “penny stocks” at a Long Island brokerage company in a strip mall. Jordan is so good at it that he soon runs his own “boiler room” from an auto repair shop. There is a scene at a diner where Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) approaches Jordan with his flashy sports car parked outside. When Donnie finds out how much Jordan makes after seeing his paystub, he quits his job on the spot and starts working for him. Belfort recruits other low-life friends, teaches them an effective cold-calling script and gives his company the name “Stratton Oakmont” for legitimacy.
Back in 1987, Gordon Gecko told us, “Greed is good.” Jordan takes it a step further and preaches greed is fun. As Jordan breaks the fourth wall and looks straight at the camera. He knows we don’t care about the details. “All you care about is whether we made a sh** load of money!” He keeps expanding his operation into bigger offices until Forbes pays him a visit for an exclusive interview. In the article, they call him, “a twisted version of Robin Hood.” Any publicity is good publicity. Soon every young broker in town wants to work for Jordan’s firm. Money begins to flow in faster than he can spend it. Soon he parties like a rockstar. Scorsese captures the excess of Jordan’s lavish lifestyle with prostitutes, drugs, fast cars, yachts and more drugs. Jordan even upgrades to a new wife like she is a luxury sports car. He leaves his cute first wife Teresa (Cristin Milioti) for the blonde bombshell Naomi (Margot Robbie). The Australian-born Robbie plays the ultimate trophy wife. DiCaprio gives a wicked performance as the unprincipled rogue with the charming smile. Although he is never remorseful, DiCaprio’s likable personality makes it hard to despise the guy.
This film is not without its flaws. It could have used a bit more editing with a few unnecessary scenes. Scorsese’s go-to editor for years has been Thelma Schoonmaker on such classics as ‘Raging Bull,’ ‘Casino’ and ‘Goodfellas.’ This film lacks the greatness of those masterworks. There is one drawn-out scene where a butler is accused of stealing $50,000. It should have been left on the editing floor. Another hit and miss is the screenplay by Terrence Winter (Boardwalk Empire, The Sopranos). The fast-paced script hits you like a freight train. It uses signature Scorsese film devices such as Jordan breaking the fourth wall and talking to the audience. For a novice screenwriter, this is suicide but Winter pulls it off because he is a talented writer. If you’re looking for interesting and layered female characters, there are none in the ‘The Wolf of Wall Street.’ Women are merely sexual objects.
What the script and Scorsese do so well is show the gaudy excesses of the late 80’s and early 90’s. Most of the time, Jordan is higher than a kite but when he gives a motivational speech to his army of stock brokers, it’s mesmerizing. DiCaprio perfectly captures the charisma it took to rally the troops. The shocking aspect of the film is that it actually happened. Scorsese never judges Jordon Belfort but is simply a keen observer. He shows the best and worst aspects of the American Dream gone astray. And that’s the real seduction of ‘The Wolf of Wall Street,’ Scorsese grabs us and never lets go until the Feds pull the plug on Jordan’s modern-day Roman Empire. Check out the official trailer from Paramount Pictures http://youtu.be/iszwuX1AK6A.