The Wolf of Wall Street (The Long and Short of It)

The Wolf of Wall Street

 

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Wall Street heavy hitter Jordan Belfort in this Martin Scorsese-directed biopic. Under the tutelage of Matthew McConaughey’s Mark Hanna, Jordan, a man from humble-beginnings, quickly learns how to talk his clients into buying just about any stock he wants them to buy, even the worthless ones. When he loses his job on 1987′s Black Friday, he partners with the inexperienced but enthusiastic Donnie Azoff (played by Jonah Hill) and opens his own firm. With money just barreling in, Jordan and Donnie expand, delve deeper into illegal activities, get themselves ripping drug and sex addictions, attract the attention of the SEC, and tear apart their family lives, all while having a damn good time of it all.

Directed by Martin Scorsese. Written by Terence Winter. Based on the book, The Wolf of Wall Street by Jordan Belfort.

My Rating

I loved it

 

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The StorySo continues a great year of movies based on true stories. Just how true is Scorsese’s telling of Belfort’s story? Who knows. After spending three hours with the untrustworthy fictional Belfort, we have little reason to trust the veracity of the actual Belfort’s story. Still, this version of the story makes for one entertaining movie. No one chronicles the highs and lows of being a criminal better than Scorsese. He knows how to capture the glamor of it all—the adrenaline high of having money, power, and esteem—as well as the inevitable drop off. For rare is the criminal who isn’t chewed up and spit out by his/her own dark enterprises.

Scorsese and Terence Winter tell Belfort’s story over the course of three hours, which is a long time (especially when you’re hungry), so we really do get to see just about all the important highs and lows, even some we may not need. The movie feels long as you watch it, particularly after the 2 hour mark, but I wasn’t ever bored. It’s a wild ride from start to finish, with enough laughs to classify this movie as a dark comedy instead of a crime drama.

In fact you may get so wrapped up in the fun everyone is having that at times you forget you’re watching criminals. Even more so you’ll forget that you’re watching something based on real-life criminals, who really did all these horrible and selfish things. They swindled a lot of people’s money and consequently ruined a lot of people’s lives. That’s the only thing I wished we did see more of: the pain they inflicted on the world. However, being that this is Jordan’s story and being Jordan has never once cared about the people he hurt, it makes sense that the victims wouldn’t even enter his narrative.

 

The CharactersJordan breaks the fourth wall in this movie, narrating his own story, explaining to the audience some of the intricacies behind stock-trading and even bragging to us about all the stuff he has. The latter part is one of the reasons why he is appealing as a character. He has money, he loves to have fun with it, and it’s a ball watching just how he does that. He’s entertaining in the way disaster movies are entertaining. When Jordan arrives home flying his own helicopter into his backyard while stoned off his ass, it’s just mesmerizing. We are dazzled by the things an unchecked ego will do. But make no mistake: we never like Jordan. He’s a scumbag if there ever was one.

So is Donnie—a loud, abrasive, big-toothed guy whose moral compass is no better and possibly worse than Jordan’s. The two kindred spirits become friends quickly and end up changing each other’s fates. Jordan may be the more charming of the two, but Donnie is all kinds of hilarious (thanks to Jonah Hill being all kinds of hilarious), but the kind of funny you prefer to observe from a distance.

The only woman we really get to know in this movie is Naomi, Jordan’s lover, turned wife, played by Margot Robbie. Just about every other woman we see is being used as a sex object (either willingly or less so) by Belfort’s team of testosterone-driven dudes. The sex in this movie is rampant (possibly gratuitous if I’m to go by the overheard comments of people walking out of the theater). It was definitely a lot, but so was the drug use. The viewer will decide which is worse. I’ve heard that Scorsese is taking some flack for seeming to glamorize these things, but I think he’s just telling Jordan’s story, and Jordan is the one who glamorizes sex and drugs and money and parties. It would be odd if Scorsese took any kind of judgmental tone.

 

The ActingThis movie is two parts Leonardo DiCaprio and one part Jonah Hill. There is a scene with Leo trying to crawl to Belfort’s car while strung out on Quaaludes that is outstandingly performed. That and the subsequent scene at Belfort’s house are some of Leo’s best acting work of all time. I’m not sure we’ve seen him go as off the rails as he does here, and it’s a true pleasure to watch. There aren’t many actors who could make someone so disgusting be so likable.

DiCaprio’s performance here is also unique in that I saw Leo more than I saw Jordan but didn’t mind at all. This tends to happen with the likes of Tom Cruise, George Clooney, and recently Will Smith, actors whose names and public personas are so great, that they overshadow the characters they play. For obvious reasons this can be a problem, but in The Wolf of Wall Street Leo’s performance was just too entertaining for me to care.

Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall StreetNow Jonah Hill does his best to steal this movie from DiCaprio, and he comes close. He for sure gets more of the laughs. He injects Donnie with his classic Hilliness, which includes an ability to say ridiculous things with a serious face (see the “midget-tossing” conversation at the beginning the movie). Yet he remains a grounded character. He’s someone you believe would exist in the real world. I love the fact that he’s taking on heavier, more dramatic roles like this one and his character in Moneyball. Sure he’s still providing the comedic relief in these films, but you can see him stretching and growing.

As expected in a Scorsese film, everyone gives a solid performance: Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler as the FBI agent, Matthew McConaughey, Jean Dujardin as the slimy Swiss banking officer, Jon Bernthal as Belfort’s drug dealing friend. There’s also a fun little cameo from director Spike Jonze.

 

The Aesthetic The movie looks and feels like it’s in the 80s and 90s—the clothing, the hairstyles, the Zack Morris cell phones. Oddly though, some of the outdoor scenes seemed a little off, and I think it’s because they had to do some manipulation, digital or otherwise, to make things seem older.

For instance, there is a scene where Jordan and his first wife, Teresa (played by Cristin Milioti) are arguing outside the Trump Tower in Manhattan. It looks almost as if they constructed an old Trump Tower façade and then blurred it a little because maybe they couldn’t get it just right. Or maybe it was a deliberate choice to make it look less crisp, so that things just feel older. I don’t know. There are a few scenes like this that stand out, but as a whole the movie looks and sounds great, and we’re just going to ignore the fact that the 39-year-old DiCaprio starts the movie playing a 20-something Belfort.

 

The Big Question Do I want to see it again?
Yeah. For sure. I’ve heard that Scorsese originally intended to release a four-hour version of this and that that director’s cut might end up on the DVD. I’m very curious to see that extra hour of material that the studios made him cut from this extravaganza of a movie.

 

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Boiler Room - Movies similar to Wolf of Wall Street Boiler Room: This one will be particularly interesting to watch as it was inspired by Jordan Belfort and his team of brokers at Stratton Oakmont. It came out in 2000 and I haven't seen it in a very long time, but I remember liking it and would love to see again having just watched Wolf. It stars Vin Diesel, Giovanni Ribisi, Ben Affleck, and Tom Everett Scott (who I always thought would have a massive career). Written and directed by Ben Younger. (Buy it on Amazon.com: Streaming, DVD, Blu-ray).
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