I will make no apologies: Jordan Belfort is a greedy, shortsighted leech on society, and I hope The Wolf of Wall Street is his swan song. To me, this real-life Wall Street mogul represents everything that can go wrong with the human spirit. To quote him directly, he is nothing but pond scum. And yet it is in that pond scum that his proxy, Leonardo DiCaprio, comes alive.
It’s hard not to love DiCaprio at this point. His portrayal of Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street is nuanced magnificence. DiCaprio infuses Belfort with a venom more poisonous even than that of his role as a slave driver in Django Unchained. Hitting every tortured note of Belfort’s life with scene-stealing monologue and narration, DiCaprio continues to cement himself as a cinematic icon. He will be remembered as one of the greatest actors of his generations, his lack of Oscars be damned.
Sharing the screen with DiCaprio is a superb cast. Jonah Hill turns in another great performance following his award-winning work in Moneyball, marking him as dramatic actor worth taking note of. Matthew McConaughey also continues to astound with a brief but memorable role as Belfort’s first mentor. Jean Dujardin and Rob Reiner do well in their bit parts, as does an underutilized Jon Favreau.
But it’s Margot Robbie as Belfort’s second wife, Naomi, who stands head and shoulders above her peers. While DiCaprio mostly keeps the ball in his court as Belfort carves his way through Wall Street, Robbie is the only actor to meet his intensity line for line. As Naomi and Belfort fight, their emotions scream through the screen. These moments elicit an uncomfortable sense of fly on-the-wall voyeurism, a testament to the truth of their vitriolic chemistry. Beauty and talent don’t always go hand-in-hand, but Robbie’s got both; I expect to see her name on the marquee again in short order.
The Wolf of Wall Street is yet another magnum opus from Scorsese, a director who is rather transparent with his films. For those he cares a great deal about, it is easy to feel his raw passion for the material. For others, his vigorous attention to detail seems all but absent. Happily, The Wolf of Wall Street sits snugly in the former category alongside the legendary Goodfellas.
The film charges forward with energetic aplomb. At three hours any movie might start to drag, but The Wolf of Wall Street does not. It does, however, face an issue of balance. In particular, its top-heavy first two hours puts just enough emphasis on Belfort’s degeneracy to confuse the film’s message.
You see, I haven’t read Belfort’s autobiography. Having now seen this movie, I suspect it reads something like Tucker Max’s I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell: a longwinded tale of testosterone fueled shenanigans, all of which are meant to offer vicarious pleasure and wonderment to the reader. I cannot abide this sort of self-indulgence, particularly when the person in question is making, in the case of Belfort, $1.7 million off of book sales. You don’t get to act like a jackass and then expect me to pay to hear you tell the story.
Fortunately, audiences have Martin Scorsese to retell Belfort’s saga with less personal investment. His film offers an outsider’s perspective and takes care to never glamorize Belfort’s life; the whole film seems highly critical of white collar crookery. Still, the extra focus on Belfort’s Quaalude-addled antics is just enough to make me wonder if some viewers will misunderstand the point of the movie. This isn’t a tonal or thematic issue, but merely one of time allotment: too much spent on debauchery, and not enough on comeuppance.
The Wolf of Wall Street went through the wringer in post-production. Scorsese cut almost an hour out of the movie, including content he had to remove to keep it from getting an NC-17 rating. Some of this manifests in underdeveloped side characters and the aforementioned balancing issues, but none of it really hurts the film. Often hilarious and with its morals on the straight and narrow, The Wolf of Wall Street is an epic film worth three hours of your time. And unlike working a day on Wall Street, no drugs are required to get through it.
Verdict: Movie Win