By Marc S. Sanders
When a person carries on with his/her life knowing full well that practically every action is illegal, immoral and harmful, it’s a story that must be told. Jordan Belfort, The Wolf Of Wall Street is such a person.
Leonardo DiCaprio explodes with rages of drug use, drinking, more drug use, banging prostitutes, even more drug use and pink slip stock trading along with some drug use. To get this manic, this wild, and this crazy requires a certain kind of energy to perform. The real Jordan Belfort must have had a massive amount of stamina to live this life. After all, he’s still alive today. DiCaprio, portraying the on-screen persona, throws himself into it. There’s no way he got to this pinnacle of hyperactivity on cue, with director Martin Scorsese’s call for action. DiCaprio had to thrust himself into this debauchery. It takes a certain skill to not let up on this. Pay attention to a hilarious scene where his quaaludes have paralyzed him to the point where he can’t even crawl to, much less open the door to his car. It’s a hilarious display of crippling physicality. DiCaprio maxed out on his Belfort portrayal, thereby earning his Oscar nomination. I thought he should have won that year. He lost to his cameo co-star, an excellent Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club.
DiCaprio is so good that he yanks the entire cast into comparable craziness as well. Jonah Hill plays Jordan’s sidekick Donny: a buffoon of a guy who’ll whip out his member at inopportune times for attention and display. Hill doesn’t hold back either in his earned second nomination as well.
Scorsese, with a script by Terrance Winter based on Belfort’s book, is not concerned with necessarily showing a story arc where characters question their actions. Instead, he focuses on the hubris of all of this. Crashed helicopters, crashed cars, crashed planes and crashed luxury yachts not to mention endless office orgies, including one in first class on a commercial flight to Switzerland. It’s filmed very well, and while it is one over the top thing after another, it is nonetheless very funny and very entertaining.
The nerve of this guy, right? Yet that’s the thing about The Wolf Of Wall Street. Right from the get-go, Belfort is strongly urged to let up as the FBI easily closes in, and he doesn’t. It’s kinda crazy, really. Belfort put himself in an unwinnable situation and his addiction to money, drugs, ridiculous sex, and the ease by which he does it all calls to him to stay in the game until the lights just turn off.
This film marked the highly visible introduction of Margot Robbie as Jordan’s wife. She’s excellent with a New York accent (Robbie’s Australian) who loves the money and glamour but is not so stupid. Following up with a nominated role in I, Tonya (which she should have won against an aggravating Frances McDormand in Three Billboards…) and offering the best moments of Suicide Squad, it is easy to believe that she could go toe to toe with DiCaprio here. They have great arguments on screen together; funny but true.
Scorsese offers up his signature narrative voiceover from DiCaprio just as he did before in Goodfellas and Casino. His editor Thelma Schoonmaker is great at keeping the energy alive by taking advantage of the legendary director’s quick cuts and great music samplings.
The cast is just right with memorable moments from Jon Bernthal as Jordan’s tough guy friend and errand boy, Brad. (Bernthal is a great character actor all together. Check him out in Baby Driver, too.). Kyle Chandler is the modest element as the FBI agent who brings it all down. He knows he doesn’t have to exert himself too much. Belfort is doing all the work for him. Still, he spells it out harshly and honestly. No bullshit. He just cuts to the chase.
Other great appearances include Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin, Joanna Lumley and I have to recognize Stephanie Kurtzuba. She offers a scene not widely recognized, as a disciple of Belfort’s team who is full of pomp, and confidence that far exceeds any of the guys alongside her. It occurs midway through and it’s an important moment because it really shows the power of influence Belfort had with his stockbrokers. He made them criminal millionaires overnight and to them he’s a Messiah. When Kurtzuba’s moment occurs, she solidifies the power of Belfort’s misdeeds.
It’s very easy to succumb to this lifestyle. Scorsese and Winter show how easily and quickly lots of unclaimed cash can be made at the expense of innocent people. It’s really fascinating. There’s no dimension to Belfort and his cronies of losers who would follow him anywhere despite the cost and the damage. That’s okay for me here. Simply because it fascinates me that he had the chutzpah to continue on with this immoral trajectory.
The Wolf Of Wall Street is a no holds barred, great film.