A masterpiece of greed, corruption, addiction and depravity, “The Wolf of Wall Street” is one of the best-made movies in recent history and stands out among the top films of director Martin Scorsese’s impressive career.
The movie recounts the mostly true story of the rise and fall of Jordan Belfort—here played by Leonardo DiCaprio—a corrupt stockbroker in the 1980s who made millions after launching his own company, Stratton Oakmont. Belfort artificially expands the price of worthless stock and sells it at a big profit, at a loss to the investors.
The film follows a downward spiral, getting more depressing and serious as it goes on, but retaining its absurd and comedic atmosphere throughout, leaning more toward black comedy than drama. The juxtaposition of Belfort’s various moral struggles to be a family man clashes with his lust for exuberance, making the audience both sympathetic to his plight and disgusted by him.
DiCaprio is brilliant as cocky, sleazy, smooth-talking yet conscience-minded Belfort, a con that you can’t help but like. He gives an incredibly fierce and unapologetic performance, convincing us that Belfort is avarice personified. The absolute excess and debauchery that Belfort surrounds himself with is appalling, but it is so over-the-top as to be humorous. When he’s racked by ultra-potent pills and can only crawl on the floor, providing sardonic narration, you can’t help but laugh in what would otherwise be a lowly, sad situation.
The rest of the cast is great as well. Matthew McConaughey makes a surprisingly strong appearance early on as a stockbroker who introduces Belfort to criminal success. Jonah Hill brings both his funny-man persona and his strong dramatic acting with him as Donnie Azoff, Belfort’s constantly drugged-out right-hand man. Other notable actors pop up here and there throughout, all well-played with dialogue so natural that half the time it feels improvisational.
While the movie is three hours long, it is a fast three hours. It is both a spectacle and a word of caution, as we go through slow-mo drug binges with Belfort, watch his marriage crumble and see him set himself up for a fall. It’s like watching a train wreck—you can’t look away.
The story-telling here isn’t as overt as other films’, taking its time to move along, but what a great time it is. It follows an odd mix of documentary-style narration and DiCaprio breaking the fourth wall, talking right to the audience à la Ferris Bueller, which works wonders when combined with Scorsese’s trademark long shots.
In all, this is not the type of movie you would want to see with your grandmother or family. If you’re a moralist who can be easily offended, stay away from this film. But if you want brilliant acting, great directing and a hell of a spectacle-filled story, find a copy of it as a soon as possible.