Todd S. Gallows
As directors age, the venom, panache and originality that fuels their work often begins to dwindle. With The Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorsese shows that at 71, he’s not going down without a fight. It’s a film that takes a spectacular look at the culture of American excess. It’s his best black comedy since After Hours.
Based on the memoir of former stockbroker Jordan Belfort, the film chronicles his exploits in a world rife with fraud, swindling, money laundering, sex, drugs, sex, alcohol, sex, drugs, sex, a bit of violence, some more drugs and some more sex. The film had cut some portions just to skirt an NC-17 rating, if that gives you any idea.
Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) starts off as a young, smart and ambitious stockbroker in the late 1980s whose mentor Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) quickly alters his priorities. In short, “Greed is good. Whether the client makes money doesn’t matter. It just matters that we do.” Also, lots of drugs get you through the day.
Belfort takes this to heart, and over time starts his own firm, gets filthy rich, employs trustworthy and equally hungry friends such as Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) and trades in his old wife for a newer, hotter model (Margot Robbie). Their time off work – and often during work – is spent tossing dwarves onto dartboards, having wild parties, $26 000 dinners – literally throwing money in the garbage while dodging federal investigators.
Clocking in at nearly three hours, the film maintains a kinetic energy. Scorsese borrows from his old bag of tricks using narrative and editing elements which harken back to Goodfellas, yet keeps it fresh. The biggest strength of this film is its sense of humour. From nearly beginning to end, it crackles with razor- sharp dialogue, insane banter and many darkly comic situational jokes.
The tone does take a sturdy shift towards the end, and a particular joke involving Quaaludes goes on far too long, but other than that, every moment is captivating. I laughed more than I have at any film in a long time.
Viewed through the wrong lens, this could be seen as vapid. However, it’s a thoughtful examination of a culture of vapid individuals.
A decade and a half ago, Leonardo was reportedly considered for the part of Patrick Bateman in the film adaptation of American Psycho. The Wolf of Wall Street is certainly reminiscent of American Psycho. Like a Bret Easton Ellis novel, and really, any unapologetic black comedy, the goal is to submerge the viewer in the depraved culture, rather than didactically tell us what’s wrong about it. The satire comes from the absurdity, the sense of injustice the viewer may feel by the end, while also making them take a look at their own lives. How many viewers would not mind having a piece of the pie, which would inevitably plunge them into the same bubble of excess and moral turpitude?