By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin, and Cristin Milioti
After Hugo came out at the end of 2011, I was beginning to feel like Martin Scorsese was going to spend the rest of his career scratching things off his bucket list. Hugo, while loved by some, was looked at by me as a film geared toward kids that was a boring, slow-burn love letter to Hollywood. The Wolf of Wall Street marks his return to the screen since that fiasco. It is not slow. And it certainly is not for kids. Yet, even with Scorsese returning to adult themed territory, I had a lot of questions going into The Wolf of Wall Street. Questions such as twenty-seven years after Gordon Gecko told all of us that greed is good, would a story about Wall Street still resonate in this day and age? With Scorsese loving his stories about people who soar high and crash hard, how would he handle a batch of neanderthals who do half as much? Would the three-hour fifth collaboration between DiCaprio and Scorsese feel like more of the same by the end? Most importantly, in this Scorsese built world, would two of our most popular modern actors be able to be just as captivating in these roles as if say, Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci had taken the roles twenty years ago?
Well, there is no doubt that The Wolf of Wall Street is a very entertaining film. And if anything, it proves that even at seventy-three years old, Martin Scorsese has comedic timing that would make Judd Apatow blush. I would also argue that the film is a shining example of his best directing in years. From his vaunted long dolly shots to the constantly brightly lit (even in night scenes) pallet to even his smart use of the mostly annoying if misused rotating 360 degree angle shots, to even the shot most recently used in Mad Men (elevator doors closing around a central character), the man has a grasp on how to grab you for three hours. After all, he’s been doing it for a long time, and his professionalism shines throughout the entire film. All in all, I would even be as bold as to say that Wolf of Wall Street is Scorsese’s best ever job as a director.
The Wolf of Wall Street is a high energy whiplash inducing farce that hardly takes a breath through the entire three-hour running time. In some ways, this works in The Wolf of Wall Street’s favor. You are never bored, and Terrence Winter’s (Boardwalk Empire) script is so full of rapid fire Tarantino-esque dialogue and slapstick situations you don’t want to turn away from it out of fear you’re going to miss something. Of course, with the people delivering said lines, it couldn’t be in better hands. DiCaprio, no matter how you look at it, had a daunting task in his hands. He had to be a complete innovator of new forms of debauchery, all the while making sure you still like him. This was a task DiCaprio was more than up for. Even in one of the film’s only scenes containing severe dramatic tension, he never lets his own persona shine through, making us even feel the tragedy behind the main story that there is no turning back for his character of Jordan Belfort.
The casting of Hill sort of baffled me. I say sort of because he showed some pretty decent (Oscar nominated) acting chops in 2011’s Moneyball. That being said, and the hugely distracting teeth he wears notwithstanding, Hill does a nice job of balancing his well-known comedic persona with yet another character we have no right to liking but do. What’s weird about Hill is that there are things he does here I have lambasted him for in the past. The pool party immediately springs to mind. Yet, his constant interaction with DiCaprio makes us realize there is no grounding either character. This may not sit well with others, but the brilliant thing Winter accomplishes with his writing is that the same time we are laughing, we are disgusted at how these two guys got their money to begin with. Which, of course, was by ripping off people such as you and me.
There has been a lot written about how some of what is portrayed in The Wolf of Wall Street is far from truth. Which is to be expected from a film based on the autobiography of a pathological liar. Some examples being Belfort’s first wife pushing him toward the life he ends up having and how Belfort is eventually found out. Most of this is just a condensing job by Winter, which in a three-hour movie is more than welcome. Now one limited sub-plot that I would have liked to see more of is the one held by FBI agent Patrick Denham (Chandler.) Minus a more than captivating scene that takes place on Belfort’s yacht, there is hardly a sign of his plight, and I missed seeing that.
But what are you going to do? There is not a dull moment in this entire film, and that is due mostly to its principal players. Without Scorsese’s sharp direction, the film could have been drab. Without DiCaprio in the lead, there would not have been a lead character worth following. And without Hill in the main supporting role, he would have had no one to play off of and hold your attention. Truth be told, no matter how bad scumbags these people portrayed are in real life, The Wolf of Wall Street is an entertaining film that has a way of never letting you go. Even if you want to do the same to these guys’ necks.