This film is the most bombastic of all of the films for best picture. A typical filmmaker would have made this film about crooked Wall Street investors either a dramatic morality play or a character study of a man’s self-destructive nature. Martin Scorsese is not a typical filmmaker and he is practically allergic to mediocrity. Instead, Wolf of Wall Street comes at you out of the dark and sends you into the 11 levels of hell that is decadent Wall Street. Entering this world is to witness the most narcissistic, depraved and indulgent behavior possible. Luckily, Scorsese is here to guide us through this mess and help us come through intact. As he has proven in his previous films, he is a master of controlled chaos.
“My name is Jordan Belfort. The year I turned 26, I made 46-million dollars, which really pissed me off because it was three shy of a million a week” begins the trailer of the film. It sums up Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) more perfectly than I ever could in a paragraph. If this film is Dante’s Inferno, Belfort might see himself as Virgil guiding us through his own life story. While under the wing of a chest thumping, humming major investor (Matthew McConaughey) 2, he goes from a low level job at an established Wall Street Firm (just as it closes down) to an even lower level job at a penny stock investment company. With charismatic motivational speeches and intense marketing strategy, he leads himself and his coworkers into selling low level pink slip investments under the façade of big investments. In the 90’s, he forms his own company where he and his close partners uses the same strategy on major investors. Soon, they are millionaires in their midtwenties and attracting the attention of FBI Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler).
Some critics have accused the film of glorifying Belfort and his greedy lifestyle. To be fair, his life does seem attractive with the major mansions, Lamborghinis and easy living. But that’s Scorsese’s point. He shows how easily one can be lured into the lifestyle of crime just as he did with Goodfellas. Still this film is not for everyone. At the heart of it, it is a portrayal of depravity and indulgence. Throughout the three hour film, Belfort and his partners indulge in their every whim, no matter how indulgent, immature or just plain depraved. Examples include midget tossing, nude marching band and Quaaludes. Lots of Quaaludes. These scenes are actually very hilarious, especially the stages of Quaaludes.
These scenes expose how pathetic these people really under their business suits. Even with Belfort’s narcissistic narrating, he can’t hide the fact that his friends are a bunch of man boys who have millions but are too young to know how to handle it properly. This is especially true of his closest partner Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill). With a rat-nose, greasy hair and the whitest teeth in the world, Azoff is a total creep with lust for his cousin. It’s most notable in a scene where he masturbates in the middle of a party 3. But Belfort has it the worst. Take the glamour away and he is just a narcissist with a habit for addiction. At times, it is funny like when the Popeye theme accompanies him sniffing cocaine. At times, it is tragic, like getting his infant daughter killed. When the FBI start coming after him, he is given a chance to get away with his crimes but his delusions of grandeur only dig him deeper.
Be warned, this film is not for everyone. The depraved behavior may turn off some people. So will the three hour run time? But it is the fastest three hours you will ever experience. It keeps you going with a brilliant portrait of young man too smart for his own good, too young to have that kind of money and too self-absorbed to know what’s good for him. After the recession of 2008, it is a relevant portrait of the people who nearly ruined our economy. Plus, it teaches you how to sell a pen.
1) Kind of makes sense since the film is based on his memoirs of the same name. Speaking of the name, it was a nickname given to him by a financial magazine.
2) Turns out, the character’s chest thumping and humming is how McConaughey prepares for a scene. DiCaprio encouraged him to add it to the scene.
3) And for the ladies, you get a brief glimpse of “Little Jonah”