Movie Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

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The Wolf of Wall Street is obscene, loud, vulgar and full of wall to wall energy… and douchebags. Let’s get real, most of the characters in this film have no real redeeming qualities. The film is based on the real-life exploits (and autobiography) of Jordan Belfort,  from his rise to a wealthy stockbroker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government.

I’m going to preface this review with the fact that I work in the financial district, and although I don’t work with stocks or banks, I deal with the stereotypical “Wall Street” types on a daily basis. I’ll add that I am absolutely crazy for Scorsese – if I could carry him around in my pocket, I would. Leonardo DiCaprio happens to be one of my favourite actors and I’m always game for a film with both Scorsese and DiCaprio attached… needless to say, my expectations for this film were extremely high. I liked it quite a bit…almost loved it… but I was somewhat disappointed.

Scorsese’s film looks great and features a few key powerhouse scenes. However, for all its filthy entertainment, Wolf of Wall Street is not the best collaboration between Scorsese and DiCaprio.

I love that Scorsese decided to take this on as a dark comedy. These deplorable people should be laughed at. The antics of the Belfort and crew are reckless, shocking and often perverse. Scorsese directs this wild film with surprising energy (remember that Scorsese is in his 70’s) and grand choreography. The film is fluid and furious, with a decidedly MTV vibe. The film felt like an amped up music video (the musical choices in the film were fun and perfect), although, it wavered from this liveliness at a few moments in the film. The three-hour running time is as bloated as the ego of Jordan Belfort – too much time is spent of Belfort’s debaucherous exploits, and not enough on the extremely interesting criminal case against him – the film could’ve been shorter.

The performances are brazen and exaggerated to match the filthy excesses of the “Wall Street” lifestyle.

Leonardo DiCaprio is unrestrained and sensational as the sleazy Jordan Belfort. His explosive monologues and devilish grin are the best parts of the film. I especially loved his interactions with Jonah Hill (specifically their really bad trip off some expired pills). There’s nothing understated about DiCaprio’s performance. His over-tanned, over-dressed, over-sexed and over-medicated characterization of the smarmy Belfort is great fun. DiCaprio has taken Gatsby, removed his conscience and pumped him full of cocaine. Leo excels at playing characters with bad habits committing bad deeds. The hellish pace of his performance is thoroughly entertaining; however, I don’t think it will get him that much sought after Oscar.

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Leo sure does have some sweet pop n’ lock moves though!

The supporting cast adds to the continuous stream of vulgarity, sex, cursing and drug-use. Jonah Hill is a riot as the toothy Donnie Azoff. Married to his first-cousin and popping Quaaludes like candy, Donnie is a loud-mouthed, disgusting, and strange little man who is quite surprisingly, a lot of fun. Jonah Hill always surprises me with how great he can be. He’s the perfect foil to DiCaprio’s Belfort. Australian actress Margot Robbie plays Belfort’s sassy and gorgeous wife – who, like the audience, quickly gets tired of the disgusting testosterone-fueled antics of Jordan and his cronies. Matthew McConaughey (still looking Dallas Buyers Club skinny), is able to make a big impact in a short amount of time as Belfort’s mentor. There’s some real stand-outs amongst the smaller parts: Rob Reiner as Mad Max (Belfort’s short-fused father), Kyle Chandler as straight-as-an-arrow FBI Agent Patrick Denham, Jean Dujardin as the crooked Swiss Banker, and the entire founding crew of Stratton Oakmont, specifically Jon Bernthal (Brad) and P.J. Byrne (Rugrat).

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This is the real American Dream – get rich quick, and suffer no consequences. There have been quite a few films in the past year that depict the life of excess, and the toll that it can take on the unsuspecting public (American Hustle and The Great Gatsby). Powerful people do ugly things with little remorse, and often with no penalties. Jordan Belfort is a wealthy man, who only spent 36 months in prison for his white-collar crimes. He doesn’t seem to learn any lessons or repent any of his actions (the man wrote an autobiography of his exploits with unreserved conceit). He is no role model. He lied, he cheated, he stole, he got caught, he got out…. he lived happily ever after?

The four “bros” sitting behind me clearly idolized Belfort, trading hi-fives and proclaiming that the man “was a god”. It’s this reaction to the film that has me a bit confused. I see Wolf of Wall Street as a slick satire, but others seem to take it at face value. Oliver Stone has famously been baffled by audience reactions to Michael Douglas’ portrayal of Gordon Gekko in Wall Street. “Gordon Gekko is no hero”, yet somehow, a villain meant to embody the worst excesses of his era became a folk hero and highly persuasive career counselor. Screenings of the film has Wall Street bankers and brokers cheering.

Satire is a tricky thing. The Wolf of Wall Street is a dark comedy – but the stylized way in which the excessive nudity, sex, drug-use and money are depicted has some people thinking that the film glorifies the repulsive actions of Jordan Belfort, as opposed to criticizing them. The film is funny because of its ridiculous, vile and cringe-worthy characters; but sobering because these guys evaded death, evaded the law, evaded morals…and still won in the end. In real life, the bad guys often win.

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This is an exploration of an immoral person who has achieved the excess and overindulgence of the new American Dream. You’ll either love it or hate it, depending on your interpretation and tolerance for reckless and sordid behaviour.

The Wolf of Wall Street is a rapid-fire, filthy and funny film – which fell shy of being truly great. Much like Belfort’s shady stocks, a lot of style with not as much substance.

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6 thoughts on “Movie Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

  1. Nice review. I had a lot of fun with this movie, however, I can totally see the problems people have had with the time-limit. It can be a bit redundant and over-bearing at times, but overall, I had a great time that I wouldn’t mind re-living again. Just have to make a lot of time available during my day is all.

    1. I don’t think I’d mind the 3-hour running time if there was more to it than cocaine and prostitutes. Like I said, it got really interesting once the FBI investigation started, but that was already 2-hours into the film!
      I’d watch it again for Leo alone. He knocked it outta the park!
      Thanks for reading!

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