Sitting down to write this review, I had trouble figuring out the sub header you see above. I normally like to put a joke or pop culture reference there, but I simply can’t seem to. The more and more I think about The Wolf of Wall Street, the more a word like “F**k” becomes an appropriate descriptor for Martin Scorsese’s latest. It’s just beyond polite conversation.
The film has managed to stick with me days after I had seen it for myself. In what seems to be both Scorsese and DiCaprio’s finest, WOWS is a great way to end your 2013. It’s got a few issues sure, but most of those can be brushed under the rug. The Wolf of Wall Street is gripping, gratuitous, overloaded with expletives, overzealous, sexually charged, hilarious, enticing, kookoo bananas, and even a little disgusting.
But most importantly, The Wolf of Wall Street is f**king magnificent.
The Wolf of Wall Street
Director: Martin Scorsese
Release Date: December 25, 2013
The Wolf of Wall Street is a gorgeously grotesque film. An adaptation of Jordan Belfort’s The Wolf of Wall Street memoir, the film lies somewhere in between biography and fantasy. As Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) takes it upon himself to tell his story, it blurs the line between what could be real and what is an illusion brought on by quaalude overdose. Scorsese crafts the film in an admittedly odd way, but it ultimately yields the best rewards. By relying on an unreliable narrator (as Belfort’s character seemingly remembers parts of the story on the fly), the film’s sequences don’t immediately have a tangible connection from one to the other until you think about them later. Why is Belfort remarking how attractive his wife is (coupled with a gratuitous image of her in underwear) important? It’s not immediately until he decides to explain why later. This disconnected storytelling could be a detriment if the film’s sequences didn’t at least make sense in the grander plan.
Now to address the elephant in this review. WOWS nearly missed its release this year due to editing issues Scorsese had with the film. To bring the film down to its current hefty 179 minute run time and R rating, Scorsese (and his editor Thelma Schoonmaker) had to buckle down and cut the film from its rumored NC-17 (missing its original November 15th mark) in order to get it out by Christmas Day. The problem with all of that was Scorsese reportedly had trouble letting any of it go, and it’s easy to see why. WOWS may sound like a heavy investment, as telling anyone a movie is three hours is likely to turn them off, but the flow of the film does its best to alleviate that inherent issue. It’s not always perfect in that sense, as there are definitely lapses in pace when it slightly struggles during the second act to place the direction of the film, but every scene in the film is full of so much hilarious personality.
And hilarity is the name of the game. When boiled down, WOWS is a film about terrible people doing terrible things for money. That doesn’t always make a bad movie, but WOWS could’ve been an entirely different beast if played straight. Thankfully, WOWS takes place in an exaggerated world full of thinly veiled cartoons. Once again due to Belfort’s narration, each of the film’s characters is framed with a comic insincerity that adds a nice layer to them regardless of whether or not they actually develop through the course of the film. The people Befort surrounds himself with are crooked drug pushers and should seem entirely despicable as you see what Belfort slowly evolves into when he surrounds himself with them. Yet the beauty of WOWS is they’re entirely likable in that jerk kind of way. For example, there are numerous disgusting party scenes. Copious sex and drug use radiate within, but it’s framed hilariously with a mix of funny facial expressions and montage song choice.
Speaking of lovable jerks, DiCaprio completely throws himself into Belfort, both physically and metaphorically. Jordan Belfort is so cartoonishly despicable, I wouldn’t believe he actually existed if you told me outright. As he narrates WOWS, his arc becomes one of the best things I’ve seen all year. It’s grandiose in nature as Belfort becomes a tragically heroic character who’s blinded by the glitz and glamour of the gritty stock market underworld. It also helps that Belfort is so damn personable. His exacted influence over other people would be arguably null if DiCaprio didn’t portray him as well as he did. He’s put on the right amount of sleeze mixed with his already established “good guy” persona. There are a number of the scenes in WOWS that are entirely DiCaprio delivered speeches, and in a lesser movie, those speeches would seem to drag on the already heavy run time. What DiCaprio manages to do here, however, is manipulate his charismatic personality (coupled with Scosese’s choice to always focus on Belfort in these scenes without cutting away) in order to draw you in along with the film’s characters. It’s a wonderful introspection into what would influence you and how far you’d go for a lovable person.
Casting DiCaprio feels like a given in retrospect (as he’s successfully worked with Scorsese in the past), but he also tends to struggle with material. He was the worst aspect of The Departed and The Aviator, and always notably loses his grip with Scorsese’s material. But something clicks here. The Wolf of Wall Street capitalizes on DiCaprio’s entire career and molds it into his most defining moment as a character actor. It takes the physicality of Arnie from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?, the sly grime of Calvin Candie from Django Unchained, the false dignity of Gatsby from The Great Gatsby, and even Brandon Darrow’s need to yell from Celebrity. Coupled with Scorsese’s little touches of pop culture influence, and it all leads into one of the most distressing yet comedic scenes I’ve seen in a long, long time. It’s a complete surprise, yet it makes so much sense despite its admittedly extraneous existence.
The Wolf of Wall Street is a f**king great film. There’s no real way around it. Although the gratuitous nature of the film will turn most away, and some of the scenes in the film could be removed for brevity, what is here is brilliant. It’s the kind of film that you have trouble finding words for, and it’s one you sort of have to cap off with an expletive.
It struggles a bit in the middle and not everyone will gel with its cartoonish yet grotesque humor, but it’s a wonderfully yet unreliably told story. It’s the sort of story you’d hear from the guy in the corner of the bar. He’d tell you he used to be a multi-millionaire and you’d shrug him off because he smells funny. But the one time you decide to sit down and listen to his story, you’d walk away feeling much better with your own life choices.
The Wolf of Wall Street is my favorite Scorsese/DiCaprio film to date, and it may well be my favorite Scorsese overall. I’m so glad it released this year.
Matthew Razak: I really can’t wait for the 4-5 hour director’s cut to release of this movie because then I can sit down and watch it how it should be watched: as a series of separate vignettes about the greed an excess of Wall Street. There isn’t a single bad scene in The Wolf of Wall Street, but much like its characters it has almost no control in how it uses its own wealth. While every scene is fantastic the film doesn’t hold together as a whole as it stretches on and on. There’s plenty of amazing here, but it needed another month in the editing room for it to become the film it really should have been. Great – 84