Greed, excess, vulgar, and funny; all words that describe Martin Scorcese’s latest three hour epic The Wolf of Wall Street. It’s the fulsomeness true story of one time successful stock broker Jordan Belfort who lived the life of a rich playboy and was eventually nailed by the FBI for securities fraud and money laundering for swindling his investors.
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the titular anti-hero Belfort, Scorcese tabs DiCaprio to turn in one of the best performances of his career. He’s loud, over the top, motivated, and smooth talking – he’s Leonardo DiCaprio like he was always meant to be seen. It’s true, DiCaprio has played forms of this character before – Aviator and Django Unchained come to mind – but he’s never been this over the top and crazy. The film tells the story starting from the beginning where Belfort is a wide-eyed young stock broker working for a rather brilliant Matthew McConaughey (seriously, he’s so great in his small role). When McConaughey’s company, L.F. Rothchild, goes under in the stock market crash of 1987, Belfort is forced to seek employment just about anywhere he can. He finally lands on his feet selling penny stocks out of a garage with three people working for him. Eventually Belfort establishes Stratton Oakmont where he begins to defraud his investors with fraudulent stock sales. It’s during this time that Belfort gets rich, develops the hard-partying lifestyle he was known for, becomes a drug addict, and completely alienates everyone that was ever close to him.
Scorcese’s film goes far beyond just telling a story, it’s a circus where the elephants dance and bears ride bicycles. The high-flying act of DiCaprio as Belfort is transformative, mainly because you never get the sense – or motivation – that Belfort is a bad guy. Sure, he’s a douche bag with lots of money. Sure, he’s engaged in infidelity while having a smoking hot wife. Sure, he’s a drug addict known for causing tons of damage. However, Scorcese paints the picture that Belfort is just misguided, blindsided by so much money he just doesn’t know what to do. I can imagine that being so successful (even if he did scam people to become successful) would have a changing effect on a 24 year old man, but the way Belfort reacts to money is so far beyond greed. Frankly, it’s disturbing. Scorcese makes sure the audience understands Belfort’s lust for money – especially when DiCaprio talks to the camera with a wink and a smile – due to the fact that Belfort did just about everything imaginable to keep his cash flow coming in.
The Wolf of Wall Street, named after a Forbes magazine article done on Belfort in the 80’s, is vulgar, obscene, over-long, tedious, but above all fun. Belfort’s right hand man, Donnie Azoff (another great role from Jonah Hill – seriously, who knew that the fat kid from Super Bad would be this fantastic?), is always by his side and undertakes in the same debauchery that Belfort does – only his stakes are lower. One scene in the film, embellished or not, where Belfort’s yacht is sunk by a monsoon on its way to Monaco only further illustrates the point that Belfort only thinks about himself. Endangering the lives of his family, friends, and crew aboard the boat just to save a couple of millions of dollars and then wants to get high before he potentially dies. It’s exactly the picture Scorcese wanted to paint when making the film. Belfort was never about anyone other than himself.
The film will turn people off as far as viewers go. It celebrates everything we’ve always been taught about greed and lust. The movie uses the word “fuck” in one way, shape, or form over 500 times. You can’t go more than 10 minutes without seeing some woman’s boobs or DiCaprio snorting cocaine off one of the many different surfaces the film depicts. However, it’s all trivial in the grand scheme of things. Scorcese was never interested in making Belfort look like a criminal and it’s exactly how the film turns out. Greed is a bad thing but you can have fun while being bad.