Holy cow, Leonardo DiCaprio…what an absolutely amazing, amazing performance! Director Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio take movie-goers on a wild and thoroughly entertaining ride through all three hours that is “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
Based on Jordan Belfort’s autobiography, The Wolf of Wall Street, with screenplay by Terence Winter, the film is the story of penny stockbroker Belfort’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) staggering rise to the top and his less than staggering fall, by a normal person’s standard, that is. The real Belfort has been quoted saying his “role models were Michael Douglas’ character, Gordon Gekko, in the movie ‘Wall Street’ and Richard Gere from ‘Pretty Woman’.” Judging from this film his “sleazebagness” has far surpassed them…in fact, his role models are mere pikers when compared to him. While under no circumstance is Belfort any kind of hero, far from it, his story is definitely a compelling one, and in the extremely capable hands of Scorsese and DiCaprio, more than merits your time.
The film begins with a wild office party at Belfort’s firm, Stratton Oakmont, where little people are being launched into the air as human cannonballs. We then go back in time to 1987 and Belfort’s first day of work at a Wall Street firm. He arrives to his job in normal fashion—by city bus—and given a goodbye kiss for luck by his wife, Theresa (Cristin Milioti). This may be the last normal scene in the entire movie and perhaps the last normal period in Belfort’s life. He’s taken out for one of the strangest lunches imaginable by his boss, Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), during which Hanna reveals his philosophy for success—prostitutes and drugs—and encourages Belfort to follow his lead. Belfort’s reaction to all of this is fun to watch…he’s so naïve in the beginning. Belfort passes the Series 7 Exam and earns his broker’s license, but when the firm dissolves following Black Monday, he’s out of a job. He starts over again as a salesman, dealing in penny stocks for a company located in a Long Island strip mall. Belfort is a born salesman and starts making money…a lot of it. During this time he meets Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), who joins up with Belfort, soaking in all of Belfort’s sales’ knowledge. Together the two of them make a ton of money, enough to enable them open their own firm, Stratton Oakmont. And that’s when the fun begins in earnest. Stratton Oakmont makes money hand over fist, bilking hundreds of people as a matter of course. There are women, drugs—cocaine and Quaaludes—hookers and mistresses along the way. Eventually Belfort acquires a new wife—in with the blonde, Naomi (Margot Robbie), and out with the brunette, Theresa. But not everything is coming up roses…the SEC and the FBI start investigations—and before you know it, Belfort is looking for places to hide money. Enter hilarious trips to England and Switzerland…a wild boat ride and one of the funniest physical comedy scenes by a world-class actor in years. To go into more detail would truly ruin the fun of the movie.
Leonardo DiCaprio is in every second of this 3-hour film and he just astounds. Watching him portray the innocent financial newbie in the film’s beginning, growing into the womanizing, drug-taking man he later becomes, is one of the movie’s real delights. His character is certainly over the top, but DiCaprio is pitch-perfect. His enthusiasm literally jumps off the screen and his spirited call-to-action to his employees is no less inspiring than Shakespeare’s Henry V “Saint Crispin’s Day speech to rally the troops. He is so believable that I was ready to pick up the phone and start dialing. And his physical work is just as impressive as his acting. It’s an utterly fantastic performance.
Matthew McConaughey is only on-screen for 15 minutes—max. But you can’t take your eyes off him for that entire time. It’s the most shockingly great piece of work…one you will long remember. Jonah Hill, wearing a terrible set of false teeth is outstanding as the slimy Donnie. He’s great at making you feel dirty just watching him, and his physical work is terrific, too. Rob Reiner, as Belfort’s accountant father handling the firm’s books, is fabulous. He has one quiet scene with DiCaprio—just a father/son talk that feels very genuine in one of the film’s few from the heart moments. But in other scenes it’s as if he has been reborn as Archie Bunker. Reiner hasn’t done much acting in recent years, devoting his time to directing and producing. This is a more than wonderful welcome return to the screen. Jean Dujardin gives a fun performance as Belfort’s Swiss connection as does Joanna Lumley as his English contact. Finally, Jon Favreau as the SEC attorney and Kyle Chandler, in yet another turn as a government employee, this time with the FBI, are excellent in their small, but important scenes.
Martin Scorsese is 71, but he certainly isn’t lacking in energy. “Wolf of Wall Street” had to be a complicated shoot, but it doesn’t feel like it. From crashing helicopter to rockingly hazardous boat ride to some of the best performances given by a variety of actors, Scorsese delivers seamlessly on every level.
Are Scorsese and DiCaprio endorsing Belfort or his life-style? Emphatically no. But they do give a mind-blowing look into how he lived and how he got there. It’s a long journey, but it so worth the trip.
For more information about Jordan Belfort, there are three very good articles: