Martin Scorcese directs Leonardo DiCaprio in the titular role of this film based off the real life memoirs of genius, millionaire, playboy,
philanthropist con artist, Jordan Belfort.
A quick history of the character. Belfort was a hard working, more or less honest guy who became quickly infatuated the power and pace of Wall Street. Wall Street, however, just as quickly spat him back out as the firm he worked for went under. Taking his knowledge and sparkling personality back to the bottom, he managed to build a new company based around loopholes and shady dealings that quickly made him and his cohorts some of the richest sob’s on the block. This is where the meat of this epic tale of debauchery begins.
It doesn’t take long for greed, along with a new-found penchant for chemical substances and non-marital company to dominate his time as he, along with close friend Donnie (Jonah Hill) spend their hours living the high life as high as possible. If Belfort’s stories are to be believed, the sheer amount of time spent on cocaine, Quaaludes, and oceans of flesh is staggering and this film does not shy away from displaying their exploits to fullest degree. If every scene where either someone was under the influence, or naked, were cut, this massive three hour movie’s runtime would probably not even qualify as a feature film any longer. Likewise, you would find yourself back in the era of silent cinema were the language consistently censored.
Suffice to say, this is not a family friendly movie, but neither was Belfort a family friendly man. Told from his point of view, but thrown up against a slightly warped mirror, the story and all the people in it are darkly comedic, twisted, and even cartoonish at times. Despite the lavish lifestyle shown and characters’ celebration of the hardest of partying, there are few better films with a “stay sober, kids!” message. Sure we’re laughing at the onscreen antics, and sure on the surface drugs, sex and
rock ‘n roll stock fraud are celebrated, but in the end, everything is pretty sad. Including the state of country where someone like Belfort can come out the other side almost sort of winning despite everything.
Understandably, The Wolf of Wall Street has drawn comparisons to American Hustle. Both are period pieces with an attractive cast based on true stories of dishonesty, greed, lust, and conniving. Whereas Hustle lacked in focus, though, Wall Street benefits from being based on already existing stories, keeping a narrative that, while overly long, manages to mostly stay connected throughout. It’s not without issues, mostly due to the length. Three hours is a long time, and after the third orgy interspersed with DiCaprio cleverly relieving others of their money, between getting exceedingly high with Jonah Hill, it starts to get a little wearisome. Luckily, everyone is on their A game to keep things interesting and there are many memorable moments from beginning to end. Particularly an instance where an nearly incoherent Belfort encounters an obstacle to end all obstacles – a short flight of brick stairs.
Ultimately there are going to be two points of contention against this film. First is that it slathers the screen in vile content of pretty much every sort. While I would not call this film appropriate for all audiences by any means, the sex and drugs don’t seem to be there just to titillate, like in a teen comedy for example. What is on screen is faithful to what supposedly happened in real life and it serves the purpose of showing just how grotesquely warped not only those involved were, but the society which allowed them to flourish.
Second, and probably the point brought up most, is should a film like this be made at all – showcasing a man whose life should never be imitated and who destroyed many others’ lives. It could be argued that he doesn’t deserve the celebration of his life, no matter the context. It really depends on how you look at it. To me, the film celebrates him, but only within itself. Outside, as a finished work, the entire film is something to be mocked and warned off by. In some ways you could argue that it treats its subjects in a similar as those in Spring Breakers, but with more clarity.
The Wolf of Wall Street is a fantastic film with fantastic performances, but gets pulled down by an overly long run time. As long as you can manage to sit through it, and are not easily overwhelmed and/or influenced, it’s a worthwhile experience.
Mrs. Hamster did not attend this screening.
My rating: Four out of five hats
The Wolf of Wall Street defiles 2,537 theaters, December 25