Monday, December 23, 2013

The Wolf of Wall Street

A few days ago, someone asked me to describe The Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorsese’s new epic about a real man who got filthy rich by screwing people out of money. I was speechless. I stammered, I stuttered – I simply couldn’t describe the film. And then it clicked. “Remember the drug binge at the end of Goodfellas? ‘Jump Into the Fire,’ the coke, the chopper, the coke, the accident, the coke?”

“There are scenes like that in The Wolf of Wall Street?” my friend asked.

“No, the entire film is like that. It never stops. Even when it settles down, it still zooms.”

That’s The Wolf of Wall Street. It’s a film that begins with little people being thrown at a giant dartboard, and only gets crazier from there. But here’s the thing: while the film is often too much, it’s never too much. It’s relentless, but never sloppy; bonkers, but never boring. To call it restrained wouldn’t be inaccurate. Contained is more appropriate. The film constantly pushes its limits, but never for the sake of sensationalism.
So what does this all mean? It means The Wolf of Wall Street is one of the most pleasurable films of debauchery that Martin Scorsese has ever made. Much of what makes Scorsese’s films so unique is that he never judges his characters. Even if they are doing terrible things, Scorsese never casts blame, instead forcing us to form our own subjective opinion. Scorsese is the master of the antihero, and with Jordan Belfort, he surely has one of his most overzealous antiheroes yet.

Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) likes money. He likes what it buys him, he likes the type of people it attracts, he likes the excess it provides – he likes making money, by any means necessary. Shortly after starting as a licensed stock broker on Wall Street, the market crashes and Jordan is forced to seek work elsewhere. The job he soon finds, and the subsequent scam it inspires him to create, is far better discovered in Scorsese’s film than in my review. Watching Belfort rip people off and enjoy the fruits of his labor is something no printed word can do justice, including Belfort’s own memoir that the film is based on.
The Wolf of Wall Street makes it clear that numbers are essential to happiness. So here are a few numbers for you: 180, that’s how many minutes film is; 0 is the amount of time I was bored; and, perhaps most importantly, 71, the age of Martin Scorsese. I am fascinated that a 71-year-old man is still able to reinvent himself with every passing picture. No matter the film, Scorsese consistently proves that he has something new to say. And with The Wolf of Wall Street, he certainly says quite a lot. He’s saying that if anyone can make a drug-induced, sex-crazed, impossibly entertaining, Oscar-hopeful epic, he can. He’s also saying that he’s a man who’ll never rely on convention. Many will dislike The Wolf of Wall Street – it’s racy content all but makes that certain – but I highly doubt anyone will refer to it as unoriginal.

Scorsese’s muse of originality has, as of late, been credited to Leonardo DiCaprio, and for good reason. The Wolf of Wall Street is their fifth collaboration together, and rarely has DiCaprio been in better form. The cast of the film is massive, with plenty of amusing cameos and supporting performances to flesh it out. But it all rests on DiCaprio. Had he not given such an unfiltered, fearless performance, the film wouldn’t be half as successful as it is. There are so many ingenious set pieces in the film, including an extended sequence that hilariously demonstrates the effects of Quaaludes, that DiCaprio tackles head on. It’s his most dangerous role in quite some time, and he ceases every opportunity to own it.
As mentioned, the supporting members of the cast are all splendid, but I want to draw attention to one in particular. I can’t recall ever seeing Margot Robbie in a film or television show before, which made her command over Scorsese’s film a thrilling surprise. Robbie plays Jordan’s fiery second wife, Naomi, and goes pound for pound with DiCaprio every step of the way. She never backs down or quits, earning mention with Lorraine Bracco, Sharon Stone, and Vera Farmiga as a courageous woman able to stand up to Scorsese’s toughest men.

The Wolf of Wall Street is one of the best times I’ve had at the movies this year. Certainly the most fun, but also one of the most impressive cinematic experiences I’ve had in a while. I kept thinking, “No, they won’t go there, they won’t do that.” But they did, and then some. And I couldn’t get enough of it. A

55 comments:

  1. I'm going to fucking see this on Xmas day in the morning. And I better make goddamn sure that day doesn't have the infamous incident that I endured last year during Django Unchained where the projector shut down during the film's third act.

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    1. You're gonna love Wolf. Holy shit, I would've raised hell at that Django screening. Fucking terrible. I'm surprised that theater wasn't digital yet. If it was, it is VERY rare for a digital projector to just shut down.

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    2. Unfortunately, it was digital.

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  2. Maaaaaaan, I can't wait to see this - on opening day, no less! (been such a long time since I've managed to do that) I'm happy to see that Margot Robbie is doing well, I remember watching her on this Australian soap called Neighbours (most Australian actors come from there), it's so weird to see her up with the big guns here! But seriously awesome, she was one of my favourites on that show. I can't wait to see how Leonardo DiCaprio fares in this one!

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    1. When I found out Robbie was Australian, it made me appreciate her work in the film so much more. Flawless New Yawk accent. She's so damn good in the film, and Leo is superb. One of his best performances ever. Enjoy the film Stevee!

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  3. I probably won't have time to actually sit down and watch this until the new year, but I eagerly await that viewing. I've been waiting for nearly a decade for Scorsese to run on all cylinders again and, from all appearances, this looks like his true return.

    Call me crazy, which people often do, but his Oscar-bait films from the last decade were mostly bloated and incoherent messes. The Departed and Hugo were high-points, but not when compared to his earlier work.

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    1. I don't think you're crazy... I actually think that's quite fair. Gangs of New York is solid because of DDL, but I don't enjoy too much of the film beyond his performance. The Aviator is impressive in scope, but I haven't watched it since it first came out on DVD. Shutter Island I simply didn't like... so, yeah, The Departed and Hugo were great, and Wolf is incredible. Definitely not as good as his earlier work... but are any movies?

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  4. Can't wait to see this! Love Scorsese and I loved the 80s....such an incredible time of excess, insanity and greed. Remarkably I mean all of that in a good way.....one big party and people were honest about their vanity. Scorsese is a genius at conveying the true feeling of the time and DiCaprio is becoming so adept in these roles...get me to the theatre!

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    1. I can't wait to hear what you think! This flick captures the '80s well, which was a ball to watch. DiCaprio KILLS this character. Such a blast.

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  5. Pardon my language but I'm so ready to see the partyshit hit the fan with this movie. It's been a while to see a really wild movie, and this feels like exactly what I need. Nice review! :)

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    1. Thanks! Hey, you can curse on this site anytime, especially when it concerns such a bitchin' flick like this! Hope you enjoy it :)

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  6. wow. guess the trailer didn't sell it.

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    1. I still haven't watched the trailers. But either way, movie is great, but definitely not for everyone.

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  7. This movie is the best party binger of the year. Everyone calls American Hustle a "fun" movie, but that title belongs to Wolf. Aside from being flashy and showy with the partying, drugs and women, it's well-executed with a tremendous cast (including the unfamiliar Margot Robbie!!). I heavily judge anyone who doesn't enjoy this film.

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    1. YES! This is cinematic fun, far more than American Hustle. I'm so glad to hear you liked this film... I'm honestly curious to hear more female opinions about it.

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  8. I really cannot wait to see this. Excellent review, Alex!

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  9. I feel like I have been waiting for this movie for my whole life! No but really I have been on imdb for the past 4 hours or so since I left the comments going back & forth between the WOWS & American Hustle. I feel like American Hustle was received better by some campaigning ? But The Wolf of Wall Street may be the type of movie that isn't understood in its entirety for years. They will be watching this in film classes. Scorsese has a lot to say & he is going to have me questioning my career choices/life decisions. I'm so excited.

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    1. I liked this far more than American Hustle. You're so right, Wolf will be long remembered, but Hustle will have it's moment now, then kind of go away. At least in my opinion. Hope you like Wolf!

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  10. Not to mention it is already very polarizing, & some critics have focused on it glorifying depravity. I CAN'T WAIT!! :)

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    1. Exactly! We all can't like the same movie, you know?

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  11. Awesome review! I was skeptical at first but now I'm so curious about the movie - I'm a big fan of Leo, Jonah and Dujardin so at the very least I'm sure I'll enjoy their performances.

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    1. Thanks! I think you'll enjoy all of their performances. I really loved Them all; Jean was so yuppie and great, and Hill totally crushed it.

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  12. Just got back from seeing this one and I really enjoyed it. I would say I'd put it on par with my enjoyment of American Hustle (which is by no means a bad thing in my book). I think most of the performances are great, no one directs like Scorsese, and the story itself is really good I just thought that it was a bit too long. I have a problem with most films that top the two hour mark (Goodfellas managed to do it without a hitch but this one isn't at that same level in my book). Funny as well - though probably too black for most of the audience I was with, I really got a kick out of the excesses the characters went through.

    Also - Mmmm mmmm mmmm mmm m m mm mmmm oh (repeat)

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    1. Nice man, glad you enjoyed it. I dunno, for me, it didn't feel long at all. Zoomed by both times I saw it. And how great is that damn chant? So random.

      "Those are rookie numbers, you gotta get those numbers up."

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  13. Brilliant review! I LOVED every minute of this film. DiCaprio was flawless, and the rest of the cast was great too. Right now, it's my favorite film of the year.

    I really hope it can sneak into a few categories at the Oscars. What does DiCaprio have to do at this point?!

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    1. Awesome, loved that you loved it. We agree all the way here. My dad has a theory about Leo and the Oscar: the Paul Newman curse. Good looking guy who has seemingly everything, so people don't give him (or guys like him) acting Oscars. So maybe Leo will win one when he's 60 or something haha. But yeah, dude rocked this movie, no question.

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    2. I'd like to see it again, but I've put it back at #2 behind Gravity for now. Newman is a good example, but he at least received a lot of nominations. DiCaprio is still stuck at 3. :/

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    3. Very true. Hey, who's your pick for Best Actor this year? I'm really hoping for an Ejiofor win.

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    4. My pick was Ejiofor until I saw Mikkelsen, and it was Mikkelsen until I saw DiCaprio. I'm probably sticking with DiCaprio. 2013 was just too great. There are so many snubs on my ballot it's ridiculous.

      If you want to see my current top 20 or the latest version of my ballot, you can check them out at the following links. (Feel free to let me know what you think if you give them a look.)

      Ballot: http://awardswatch.com/forums/showthread.php?32741-The-Official-2013-Personal-Ballot-Thread&p=1652962&viewfull=1#post1652962

      Top 20: http://letterboxd.com/classicblanca/list/top-20-favorite-films-of-2013/

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    5. Nice picks. But those are who you want to win, right? Not who you think will win. Either way... this is going to be a damn tough year to handicap.

      Also, I need to track down The Selfish Giant.

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    6. Thanks. Do you mean Ejiofor, Mikkelsen and DiCaprio? If so, I'd be thrilled for any of them, but Ejiofor clearly has the best shot.

      I think you'd like The Selfish Giant. It's a British film that's made in the style of directors like Ken Loach, Andrea Arnold, Shane Meadows and the Dardennes. It's on iTunes and AIV by the way. Let me know if you get a chance to see it.

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    7. I really hope it's Ejiofor. I'd actually be really happy if that happens. Will hunt down The Selfish Giant ASAP. Sounds great.

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  14. Saw this yesterday and loved it!

    I understand where some of the critiques are coming from with regard to the female characters, but I believe such issues are par for the course when it comes to films about insular, male-dominated professions. Even so, that "last time" scene with Margot Robbie brings a complexity to their sexual relationship that few films are capable of. Both wives are willing to overlook aspects of Belfort's personality and profession either for love or money. They end up leaving him for very different (and complicated) reasons.

    The other big talking point--that Scorsese "glorifies" his subject--just seems dumb given all the evidence to the contrary.

    My only criticism is that the film could have benefited from just a little more trimming, such as the scene between Azoff and Brad the courier. On the whole, though, it made for a brisk three hours. One of the best films of the year.

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    1. I agree with everything you said here and love this comment. It's funny, I didn't think the film was slow at all, but I did feel like some scenes ran longer than they needed. In particular the parking lot confrontation you mentioned. Once Hill started in with the "I think you like me" bit, I thought, Okay I get it. Move on.

      But still, a very minor qualm. I loved the film as a whole and am very glad you did too.

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    2. I get what they were doing with that scene--taking care of a plot point while underlining (and highlighting and bolding) the gay subtext--but it really wasn't necessary. With even another week or editing time before release, I have a feeling Scorsese and Schoonmaker would've turned in an even tighter version. It is a minor quibble.

      And if anyone's going to accuse of a film of glorifying its subject, that film should be The Bling Ring. Saw it on DVD last night and, boy, was it a slog. Mostly fine acting, one bravura scene (the Patridge theft) but no real reason for its existence. The documentary in the bonus features was more entertaining than the actual film. Bleh.

      Happy New Year's!

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    3. I kind of felt the same way about The Bling Ring when I first saw it, but I actually liked it more upon a rewatch. Still, I get everything you're saying. And I'm glad you liked the Patridge theft scene, a definite highlight.

      I haven't seen that documentary but I did watch the entire reality series of the real person Watson was based on. Bad show, but insanely entertaining. Those people were just... wow.

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    4. Coppola's austere treatment felt out of sync with the salaciousness of the story. Something like this calls out for the kind of satire Scorsese peddled this year, I think, not the by-the-numbers drama I sat through. And some of Coppola's changes feel like she's protecting these kids. (For instance, the male lead was apparently a lot more flamboyantly gay and street wise in real life.) An admirable stance, perhaps, but that's not the job of a filmmaker.

      And then there's this little revelation: The reason Watson's character and several others got off with no or very light punishment? One of the investigators worked as a consultant on Coppola's film without his superiors' approval. (He even has a cameo in the film.) Seriously, the documentary about the film was far more interesting to me than the film itself.

      This is not to say The Bling Ring doesn't have brilliant elements (for me: the Patridge scene, the sound design, Watson and Chang's performances). They're just wrapped up in a mediocre package whose twisting of real life events brings up a lot of interesting questions about Coppola's motives.

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    5. Okay so I need to see this doc ASAP. It's definitely Coppola's most... dangerous film, if that's the right word. Very interesting how that one split audiences so sharply.

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    6. Don't want to oversell the doc, but it shed light on aspects of the story the film seemed to shy away from/gloss over.

      The film itself certainly seemed to rub me the wrong way. I wouldn't call it dangerous at all. For me, it's something akin to an upmarket Lifetime movie.

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    7. Still definitely going to check it out though. It was on the regular DVD right?

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  15. Sorry, on this one I think you got it wrong. I didn't keep the numbers exactly but here is an estimate. Number of times Leo's character takes drugs on screen, 18, number of times uncomfortable sex scenes are inserted, 12, number of times Jordan gets on a microphone to talk to the troops, 6 or so. Number of times we are subjected to the subject of Jonah Hill's junk, 2 (and one was too many). Number of times I got up to use the restroom and had not missed anything about the story twice, that's because the same thing happened over and over again. It was a mess and I thought it was a fairly weak mess at that.

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    1. Richard, dude, I like you. I like your site. But let's please not get into opinion bashing. I liked the film, you didn't. Fair enough. That doesn't make me "wrong" and you "right." Ya dig?

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  16. Oh Jeez Alex, I did not mean it to sound like I was bashing. If the tone here is unpleasant I apologize and you should feel free to remove my comment. I was just trying to contrast my reasons with your enthusiasm. I guess the term wrong implies I think I am right. Everybody sees thing differently and maybe I was just gruff because I was so personally let down by the movie. I can see that the countdown reference could also be seen as an attack. Again, not intended. If I stepped on anyone else toes in the manner in which I expressed myself, please forgive. I enjoy reading all the opinions, especially the ones that i don't see eye to eye with.

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    1. Hey man, it's all good. Like I said, I genuinely like your site and our opinions as well, you're comment just seemed HEATED, which I thought was odd. Your criticism for the film is, of course, valid (and one shared by a lot of people right now). Honestly, it really shows the type of good person you are to come back and comment again. I really appreciate that. Have a good new year man.

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  17. Really solid review here Alex. The Wolf of Wall Street might be the second best film of the year (12 Years being number one). DiCaprio is flawless, he does the highs and the lows with the utmost care and resolve. I've always been fond of his work with Scorsese, especially his Howard Hughes in The Aviator, but man, his Belfort is really something. Not since The King of Comedy have we seen this level of social commentary from Scorsese, scenes evocative of Goodfellas and Casino alike, a sexual hunger akin to his After Hours. I've always seen Raging Bull as the Martin Scorsese perfect storm, focused collaboration across the board (De Niro, Pesci, Schoonmaker, Schrader and Mardik Martin, a perfect score punctuating every vital moment. I mean it's a fucking dream team.) but Wolf made me feel the same way. It made me feel like I was watching Scorsese in top form. The day before I went to see Wolf I had doubt's.

    I had doubt's about Marty.

    Hugo was a lovely film and Shutter Island was chilling at times albeit sloppy, but I felt he was without cinematic voice. He had said the things he had to say. He made Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, Goodfellas, The Departed and many more in between...

    He's done, he's phoning it in. I doubted Martin Scorsese as the man who inspired me to make a name in film. And then I found myself watching this masterful film, three hours that just fucking disappear...so high octane. A powerful closing shot. A great title card. Great fucking acting all across the goddamned board. Beni-fucking-Hana.

    I remembered watching Taxi Driver for the first time at midnight, Raging Bull at 6 AM and Good fellas at 2. I remembered why he's the fucking best.

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    1. Hell yeah man, this comment fucking rocks. I'll be honest, I had doubts about the film too. It just looked too... much. But he totally nailed it. Now, obviously many people disagree with us, and fair enough, but I definitely thought this was Scorsese's best examination of social commentary since The King of Comedy as well. Great call there. Actually, I read an interview with DiCaprio the other day and he said he thought Wolf felt a lot like King of Comedy. You gotta love Scorsese at his best.

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  18. jonah hill has been at leo's level

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    1. I think he was in this film, for sure.

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  19. Love what you wrote here and couldn't agree more! The film is completely insane but never out of control, which is one hell a feat. And DiCaprio, unbelievable! The Quaaludes? I felt like I was watching some old hollywood master of physical comedy, he was SO good. There were so many things going through my mind while watching this movie, yet I couldn't think for too long because I could never. stop. laughing. It's such a rush.

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    1. YES! So happy you loved this one. This flick is definitely a rush - from scene one to its final poignant scene. I loved everything about it. Going to give your "Sell me this movie," podcast a listen soon! Excited to hear what the chicks have to say.

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  20. It's pure brilliance. The purpose of a film is to be entertaining is it not? This was by far the most entertaining and funny film I've seen in many years! I plan to view it several more times.

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    1. It is, indeed. Loved the craziness of this damn flick.

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