Spoilers keep their cash underneath the mattress.
Long movies really set themselves against the odds. Scorsese has been known to create these long epic films, and it’s probably one of the only directors that gets to do it on a regular basis with above average results. I did enjoy most of the three hour feature that was The Irishman. For this 2013 feature about Wall Street stockbrokers, Scorsese did two wise moves: he’s getting DiCaprio to bring his a-game and he’s making it a comedy. Now, is this movie good enough to justify a runtime one hair short of three hours? Yes, but it’s still close to three hours. That being said, this is going to be entertaining as hell. Just make sure you keep your money where you can see it.
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) was directed by Martin Scorsese based upon the screenplay of Terence Winter, which is based on the book of the same name by Jordan Belfort, a memoir of his career. In the film, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) starts as a young rookie stockbroker learning the tricks of the trade and surviving the cutthroat world of Wall Street, adopting all the bad habits and egocentric flaws. After the monumental crash of Black Monday, Jordan has to scale back and find a new job at a small penny stock brokerage firm. Determined to push his luck or bust, he gathers a group of hustler friends including his ambitious neighbor, Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill). Together they form the respectable-sounding firm of Stratton Oakmont and sell stock at inflated prices by aggressively misleading their target audience.
This is a comedy, very dark but also smart. It puts its focus on the violently hostile and extremely greedy tone of the hard sell training by Jordan and his associates. Then it regals the audience with the extreme acts of debauchery, where sex, drugs and excess are pictured like a tarnished interpretation of the American Dream. Casual audiences might be too quick to consider the lives of Jordan and company as paradise on earth. All the sex, drugs, money and parties are done over the top and yet, according to the author, were tamed down from the actual accounts in the book. It’s one of those movies where the film is eventually setting up to condemn these acts but spends a long time portraying them.
As Jordan raises his profile, he loses all control and in his continuous sexual escapades he ends up getting caught by his wife. Almost in a blink of an eye, he divorces her and marries the woman he was having an affair with, Naomi Lapaglia (Margot Robbie) with whom he has a daughter. Although he seems happy, his partying lifestyle does not stop.
Soon Jordan learns that he’s being investigated by the FBI, particularly by an agent named Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler). Throwing caution to the wind, Belfort reaches out to Agent Denham subtly trying to probe and even casually stopping short of bribing him. After the danger becomes too great, Jordan and Donnie form an alliance with sleazy Swiss banker Jean-Jacques Saurel (Jean Dujardin) and have the cash smuggled in thanks to Brad (Jon Berthal) and his wife Chantalle (Katarina Cas) whose family has European passports. The bank account in Switzerland is set up through Naomi’s british friend, Aunt Emma (Joanna Lumley) which keeps Jordan and Donnie safe.
Things took a bad turn for the worse. Jordan’s phones are tapped, his drug addiction spins out of a control, Donnie has a fight with Brad who ends up in jail, Aunt Emma has a heart attack, Jordan and Donnie end up trying to get to Switzerland on Jordan’s yatch who gets caught in a storm… the works. And that’s where the film understands that “rising” these guys up in a culture of greed and overindulgence is only half the fun. The other is to bring them down hard so we can enjoy seeing them fall and then sink to the gutter. There is a message showing us that the people that know how to make money fast don’t know how to use wealth, I just think it tends to get lost.
In all honesty, Jordan doesn’t really ever rise above anything. He is the epitome of corporate greed and entitled privilege. From the beginning to the end he’s actually always gone the same direction. Sex, drugs, cars, planes, yachts might evoke the lavish lifestyle that a lot of people dream of but Jordan and his followers is both a perpetrator and a victim of excess. The movie is missing the backlash of the lives they ruined in their wake, the families they’ve left penniless after taking their hard-earned cash in all their schemes. They literally throw money away, yet I can see how moviegoers might be tempted to pursue Jordan’s dream just for the chance to do what he does.
Strongly recommended with strong reservations. This is a great film about seedy characters who take overindulgence to the next level. As a dark comedy, it tries to have its cake and eat it too. Casual moviegoers will be attracted to the fantasy of having more money that you know what to spend it on and then screwing up your life in every which way imaginable. DiCaprio and Hill really bring their top shelf game in their performances of scoundrels we hate to love or love to hate. We know that in real life we’d be playing the people whose lives they ruin rather than living the life of glitz and glamour. In its defense, the movie never becomes a morality tale. The only lessons you have are the ones you came in with, but the film does provide a lot of guilty entertainment. That is a fair goal for a film, but it’s a long ride getting there.
That will do for now.