The Wolf of Wall Street, which portrays the rise and fall of debauched stockbroker Jordan Belfort, is certainly a timely film. In a country where many are still feeling the impact of an economy crashed by predatory investment bankers and stockbrokers, this sage of corruption, hedonism, and extreme excess tantalizes the senses right before it solidly condemns the entire lifestyle. Scorsese has crafted a three hour epic of sorts, one that makes it impossible to leave the theater without an indelible impression being left.
Despite the length of the movie, The Wolf of Wall Street consistently engages the audience, almost by force. Aside from an excellent script, the film’s greatest asset is Leonardo DiCaprio. Although his performance could have easily been drowned in the deluge of sex, violence, and swearing, Belfort remains the most obscene thing on screen. DiCaprio himself is the best he’s been in years, completely losing himself in the role. He gives into both the absurdities and the deep, deep brokenness of Belfort, and the result is mesmerizing. DiCaprio seduces the audience through his performance, making you forget at times how horrifying his lifestyle and actions actually are. Jonah Hill is nearly as electrifying as Donnie Azoff, Belfort’s equally as debauched protégé. In one unforgettable scene Hill eats an employee’s pet goldfish in a show of machismo.
Scorsese also directs with a deft hand. The Wolf of Wall Street could have easily fallen into the trap of glorifying the very lifestyle it’s condemning. Or the film could have gone to the other extreme, ending up as a didactic morality lesson. However, Scorsese walks the thin line between the two. One minute he has the audience laughing at Belfort’s latest antic, spurred on by the ridiculous nature of what’s happening and the entertaining, familiar inner monologue voiced by DiCaprio. The film will then turn on a dime, peeling away the glamor to show the corrupt, decaying life underneath the glitz and the horrific results of Belfort’s choices on those around him. As an audience member, you cannot help but feel strangely guilty for laughing as the film progresses – and that’s the genius of Wolf.
Towards the beginning of the film, you fall for the lie that Belfort has based his life on – that you really can have it all. Wealth, women, drugs, power – it’s all there for the taking. On the surface you know that what he’s doing is immoral at best. However, Belfort’s charm and his seemingly-perfect life start to make you forget that fact and think even fleetingly, that maybe you could have it all as well. The fact remains though that even after everything falls apart for Belfort, his wealth and power still cushion him. His moments of clarity come, but they don’t last for long. He may go to jail, but it’s a white-collar prison for other wayward millionaires. Even as Jordan Belfort escapes any real consequences for his crimes, Scorsese and The Wolf of Wall Street put the blame on a system and culture that glorifies this predatory attitude and rewards the worst of society, even in their punishments.
Overall, The Wolf of Wall Street is one of the biggest, loudest films of the year. There is an unrelenting amount of sex and language, but it isn’t just there for the spectacle. Supported by some of the strongest performances all year, Wolf is worth the watch – even if very few will come back for seconds.