Wolf of Wall Street (Paramount)
Rated R for sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language throughout, and for some violence.
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, Jean Dujardin, Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau, Jon Bernthal, Cristin Milioti, Christine Ebersole, Kenneth Choi, Joanna Lumley, Spike Jonze, Ethan Suplee, Martin Klebba, Katarina Čas, P. J. Byrne, Madison McKinley, Barry Rothbart.
Written by Terence Winter, based on the book by Jordan Belfort.
Directed by Martin Scorcese.
Ah, the rich. They are the current “boogeymen” of contemporary cinema – following the economic collapse of 2008, in the wake of Bernie Madoff's dealings with other less-than-scrupulous vultures and speculators. Filmmakers used to resort to Nazis, then communists and finally Muslim terrorists as the common foil in good-versus-evil tales. Now “the rich” are everyone's favorite “Snidely Whiplash” of the day, complete with evil expressions as they twirl their stringy mustaches. Such evil is the backdrop for Wolf of Wall Street, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the real-life Jordan Belfort, a man who made millions by conning investors back in the 1990s.
Belfort's story begins in the late 1980s as he joins the ranks of stock brokers who experienced the “Black Monday” market crash of 1987 (Matthew McConaughey has a brief cameo as his mentor). Desperate for work, Belfort joins a “penny stock” operation on Long Island, where he uses his hard-sell techniques to build up a small fortune and start his own firm called “Stratton Oakmont,” where he employs uneducated and unskilled salesmen to push worthless stock onto clueless upper-middle class investors. As his company begins to take off, Belfort meets Donny Azoff (Jonah Hill) and both of them lead Stratton Oakmont onto great success. As money piles up, so do the prostitutes and drugs (mostly cocaine and quaaludes). Belfort leaves his wife (Cristin Milioti) to marry the beautiful Naomi (Margot Robbie), a Miller Beer model and starts a family. Despite his new family, Belfort continues the debauchery, as do most of his employees.
All that illegal activity eventually draws the attention of the "Feds," led by FBI agent Denham (Kyle Chandler). As time passes and the feds get closer, Belfort resorts to hiding his money in Switzerland, with the help of Jean-Jacques Saurel (Jean DuJardin) a conscience-free banker, and Naomi's Aunt Emma (Joanna Lumley). One one night of celebration, Belfort and Azaoff binge on a rare drug, which results in an intoxicated driving spree and dire consequences.
Wolf of Wall Street has all the stuff you like about Scorcese movies - in spades. There are the standard mobster-like absence of morality, clever dialogue and great performances. There is also an epic feel (the movie is THREE hours long) that brings the story arc along over many years. DiCaprio is his usual brilliant self, although he tends to overact in some scenes. The supporting cast is equally stellar, with special recognition going to Jonah Hill. Others (including Rob Reiner as Belfort's father) make up a HUGE cast that cannot be mentioned due to their sheer numbers.
That large cast reflects one of the film's biggest problems - too much movie. That means too much sex/nudity, too much drug use, too much language. With all that excess, it leaves no room for anything that resembles a moral, and I left the screening feeling like I'd just witnessed a detailed description of what NOT to do. I honestly felt like I needed a shower after seeing this movie. I grew tired of waiting to see what awful things Belfort did (the film is apparently quite accurate), and couldn't wait for the law to catch up with him.
Speaking of excess, Wolf of Wall Street just missed out on an NC-17 rating - and not by much. It is perhaps the raunchiest film I've seen in a while, pushing the boundaries of taste. It would seem Mr. Scorcese is trying to remain relevant, and is resorting to indulgent methods to do so. It's not his best work, even though you can still see the veneer of his brilliance in assorted scenes.