Directed by: Martin Scorsese
R. 179 mins
A marvellously filthy rollercoaster that’s equal parts hilarious and horrific; The Wolf of Wall Street is one of the year’s best films and certainly worth the three-hour investment.
Martin Scorsese directs the story of New York stockbroker Jordan Belfort, based on Belfort’s best-selling memoir of the same title. Leonardo DiCaprio, in what is perhaps his greatest performance to date, plays the infamous Jordan Belfort – a man with aspirations reaching much higher than the good ole American Dream. The film, which plays more like an episode of reality television, charts Belfort’s meteoric rise from a penny-stock broker working out of a strip mall in the late 1980’s to a twenty-something tycoon, complete with mansions, models, a yacht, a helicopter, and a plethora of drugs. More specifically, Quaaludes, Adderall, Xanax, pot, cocaine (more than enough to impress the likes of Tony Montana), and morphine “because it’s awesome.” We follow this rogue Wall Street trader as he creates a brokerage firm known as Stratton Oakmont, employs his colourful pals as traders and, after much instruction, makes both himself and his partners instant multimillionaires – all at the expense of the American public, of course. With more wealth than they could ever imagine and multiple fraud convictions thanks to Belfort’s illegal sales methods, it’s an alarming, yet undeniably topical film which appropriately concludes with Robin Hood and his band of merry men getting off relatively scot-free. Ultimately, Belfort served 22 months in prison and was ordered to pay over $100 million in restitution to his victims (which he has apparently failed to do). As the film depicts, he became a motivational speaker after leaving prison; In fact, at the seminar in the movie, DiCaprio as Jordan is introduced by the real Jordan Belfort!
There has been much debate surrounding how faithful this film is, along with claims that it’s some sort “cautionary tale” and even a scathing indictment of capitalism but frankly, this isn’t really a *message* movie. There is almost no attention paid to Belfort’s victims, let alone much explanation as to how exactly all these criminal activities really worked. We are aware that what’s going on is certainly not legal, but only someone in the industry would really understand the exact mechanics behind the whole scheme.
After some research, it appears the the majority of the story on the screen is truthful, though Terence Winter, who wrote the screenplay, explains “You are being sold the Jordan Belfort story by Jordan Belfort, and he is a very unreliable narrator.” Frequently smashing through the fourth wall, Belfort narrates his own tale and much of the dialogue comes straight from Belfort’s book, as do almost all of the ridiculous adventures. Belfort looks right into the audience, making us complicit and making it difficult to question the behaviour of these men who behave like animals. Though it hasn’t got a chance at passing the Bechdel test, the FBI agent who investigated Belfort alleges that “everything he wrote is true,” and for the sheer lunacy of it all, I continued to watch this cringe-worthy extravaganza.
This much is true: As a Wall Street newbie, Belfort absorbs wisdom from an older broker-guru (Matthew McConaughey in a brilliant but far too brief performance), who offers lessons about money, coke, and masturbation. Eventually, Belfort is imparting a similar philosophy on his own followers – the most prominent being the gifted and hilarious Jonah Hill. Yes, The Wolf of Wall Street is long and the excess can get suffocating, but it is perhaps the fastest three hours you will experience and in a way, this adrenaline rush of depravity gets addictive and while it’s hardly innovative, one gets accustomed to the ebb and flow of these mesmerizingly horrid activities.
Hardly subtle and barely thoughtful, the film rarely strays from it’s comedic fever pitch. Without any sort of moral compass, some may be entirely repulsed by the whole affair, while others may bask in this cynical and often infantile look at all things morally questionable. The sheer audacity of 71 year-old Scorsese and the reckless abandon of the entire cast make this an unforgettable trip to the circus. For it’s vulgar charms and unabashedly manic performances, The Wolf of Wall Street is a monstrous film that you won’t soon forget.