When I first saw the trailer for The Wolf of Wall Street, I instantly declared that it was going to either be one of the best movies of the year or one of the worst. The combination of scenery chewing from the leads, absurdism in the plot and presentation and frenetic direction for Scorcese could either work out perfectly or fall apart spectacularly. And while the resulting movie may read like an insane cross between Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Wall Street and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, I can’t say it doesn’t work.
The plot that you got in your head from my description above is probably pretty accurate to the actual movie. Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) begins working at a Brokerage Firm, literally the day of the 1987 Wall Street crash. Having lost his job, he begins working for a smaller firm, selling penny stocks and pink sheets, a job that he proves almost supernaturally good at and which quickly causes him to strike out on his own, hiring a group of salesmen to help him do it, not entirely legally. Soon enough (as in, something like 20 minutes in) he’s embroiled in the typical off-the-books stock broker scene: Drugs, prostitutes, booze and general wild parties.
The biggest, and most up-front, reason to see this movie is the lead performance by DiCaprio and he’s in rare form here; The kind of wild, unhinged, scenery chewing lead performance that actors in his range so rarely give. It’s kind of weird to see a multiple Oscar nominee literally crawling across a country club floor so he can roll his way down a flight of stairs because he’s unable to walk from the drugs in his system. This kind of performance always threatens to slip into Caligula-esque accidental comedy, but it works, partially cause the tone of the movie goes with him, as do the rest of the actors, especially Jonah Hill in a gloriously over the top performance.
That tone is one of the movie’s other major triumphs, as it’s what keeps the movie from descending into self parody. The script is enjoyably silly, with Jordan often speaking directly to the camera and audience (at one point declaring that a system he devised is too complicated for the audience to understand), but still incredibly well written. The direction is…I’m not going to talk about the direction. It’s Martin Scorsese. Martin. Freaking. Scorsese. I shouldn’t need to tell you that he does a great job with the direction. It’s not as distinct as I’ve occasionally come to expect from him, but it’s still well directed.
Much of the movie is given over to endlessly detailing the excesses Jordan and his band of lunatics are going to, which would normally threaten to get boring or repetitive (and it might get a tiny bit too much, in a few spots) but every time it starts to, Scorsese and company find a new way to top themselves. And the main reason this all works is because it’s HYSTERICALLY funny, easily the funniest and most entertaining comedy of the year. This might be it’s most devious trick; Obviously this movie has a point to make about how greed for it’s own sake is damaging our society, but the movie itself never gets around to stating it’s point. It trusts the audience to know that all the leads are awful human beings and that they behavior shouldn’t be emulated, and just goes about it’s business of telling it’s story.
It is, of course, not perfect, Scorsese hasn’t done a perfect movie in a while. While the vast majority of the movie is screamingly funny, a couple of scenes towards the end are disconcertingly dark, in both presentation and subject, which would normally be fine but when taken with the rest of the movie they can be rather jarring. I would also say the movie as a whole, and a couple of specific scenes, run on a tiny bit too long. But this is Scorsese we’re talking about, that’s to be expected.
With its all star cast, well known director and bizarre lead performance, The Wolf of Wall Street is gearing up to actually be a big hit, even before it’s inevitable wave of Oscar nominations. And Wolf has my blessing to be the strangest hit of this incredibly strange year. It’s easily Scorsese’s best film since The Departed (sorry, The Depahted) and one of the best films of the year. Do not miss it.
Elessar is a 23 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he’s 80 percent certain he saw Jonah Hill’s dick in this movie.
– Great screenplay
– Fantastic lead performance
– Unique story and angle
– A little too long
– Certain scenes are a tiny bit too dark