An ordinary man aspires to become something great. He rises from near-poverty to wealth and power, but that power corrupts him, leading him into a downward spiral ridden with crime, affairs, and drugs. The bare bones of the story is familiar, but director Martin Scorsese’s take on the life of Jordan Belfort is over-the-top, hilarious, and sometimes shocking—a tone that fits the far-fetched, but true, story like a glove.
In “The Wolf of Wall Street”, Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort, an aspiring stockbroker whose dreams of a career on Wall Street are dashed when plummeting stocks on Black Monday, 1987, causes him to lose his job. But he doesn’t give up, encouraged by his wife Teresa and former boss Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), who tries to instill in Jordan the idea that drugs, sleeping around, and an overall easygoing lifestyle are essential to success as a stockbroker. After a brief but successful stint dealing in penny stocks, Jordan meets Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), and together, along with a few friends, they open their own firm called Stratton Oakmont. They start by dealing with blue-chip stocks, big names like Disney and AT&T, before suckering in investors with small businesses that are essentially worthless. They quickly make a fortune, and before long Jordan is making $50 million a year; he also gets remarried to the gorgeous Naomi (Margot Robbie), and becomes addicted to drugs, particularly Quaaludes. His success also draws the attention of the FBI, particularly agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler), who suspects Jordon of money laundering.
Scorsese masterfully turns Belfort’s story into a satire that is hilarious from start to finish. Some of it is so ridiculous and offensive, you can’t help but laugh, from a discussion involving throwing midgets at a target to a wonderful slapstick routine from DiCaprio and Hill as they descend into a lude-induced stupor. Funny though it often is, the film could never be considered light-hearted, nor a comedy, and certainly doesn’t condone the characters’ actions. Rather, Scorsese uses humor to reveal just how pathetic and mean-spirited Jordan and his fellow stockbrokers are. When Jordan and Donny get so high they can hardly move or speak, it’s amusing, but the immediate reaction of the viewer is one of disgust, and possibly mild pity.
The film is driven also by the fantastic cast, particularly DiCaprio, who keeps turning out one brilliant performance after another. He gives Jordan a complexity few others could have; he’s charismatic on the outside, but slimy and absurd behind closed doors. He’s interesting enough for the viewers to want to know and care about the outcome of his story, but never emphasize with him; again, it’s clear that the film does not support, and nearly condemns, Jordan’s actions.
The supporting cast is also strong. Hill’s performance may be overrated but he does make a great silly sidekick, as do the other stockbrokers, who include P.J. Byrne, Brian Sacca, Henry Zebrowski; their characters are aptly nicknamed Rugrat, Pinhead, and Sea Otter, respectively. A lot of other familiar faces turn up as well, including Rob Reiner as Jordan’s dad Max; together they possibly have the most awkward father-son relationship ever put on screen. There’s also Jon Bernthal, Jean Dujardin, and Jon Favreau, and of course McConaughey is memorable as always in his brief but integral role.
“The Wolf of Wall Street” is one of the best films of 2013, and clips along at so satisfying a pace you likely won’t notice the three hour runtime. Scorsese and DiCaprio are turning out to be one of the greatest director/actor duos in recent times, their films only seemed to get better and better the more they both mature. Hopefully, we will continue to see more from them in the future—and more seemingly familiar stories turned on their heads.
Runtime: 180 minutes. Rated R for sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use, and language.
Check out showtimes for this movie and more at the following St. Louis-area theaters:
- Wehrenberg Theatres
- AMC Theatres
- Regal Movie Theatres
- Galleria 6
- Chase Park Plaza
- Moolah Theatre
- Hi-Pointe Theatre
- St. Andrews Cinema
- Plaza Frontenac Cinema
- Tivoli Theatre
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