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.”
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