Martin Scorsese’s latest, The Wolf of Wall Street, explodes in your face like a mortar full of deranged bliss.
Leonardo DiCaprio, in the performance of the year, plays slimeball stockbroker and convicted felon Jordan Belfort, a real life scumbag who made millions selling penny stocks at a Long Island, N.Y., brokerage. The movie, based on Belfort’s own autobiography, takes people doing bad, bad things to such an extreme that the film doesn’t just stand as one of the best overall of 2013, but also one of the year’s best and most deranged comedies.
The film begins with a rosy cheeked Belfort starting work at a big Manhattan brokerage where a brash, coke-addicted broker played by Matthew McConaughey, capping off an incredible year, is his mentor. Belfort is ready to take the world by storm in the late ’80s, but Black Monday strikes, destroying his new employer and putting him out of work.
He winds up in a Long Island boiler room shilling penny stocks for 50 percent commission. No problem really, because the boy can sell, and people are writing checks.
Belfort, with the assistance of new friend Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill, bedazzled with impossibly white caps on his teeth) opens a shiny new brokerage to give his business that first class appearance, but he’s still just slinging penny stocks. This time, he’s slinging them at people with big money under the guise that the stocks are going to explode into major market players. They probably won’t. Still, rich people like and trust Belfort, so they throw money at him.
Where there’s money, there are decadent shenanigans, and this is where Scorsese takes the movie party to crazed extremes. Midget tossing, goldfish eating, hookers and half-naked marching bands are the order of the day, with all of these activities enhanced by massive drug and alcohol consumption.
Like Ray Liotta in Goodfellas, DiCaprio talks to the camera on occasion, often during the sort of highly elaborate tracking shots that have become a Scorsese mainstay. It’s in these moments, and during Belfort’s drug-fueled, rouse-the-troops, fire-breathing speeches to his crew, where DiCaprio does his most exhilarating, bona fide nuts acting to date. He is a formidable competitor for a Best Actor Oscar. He’s certainly my pick.
It’s not just the verbal pyrotechnics that qualify DiCaprio’s performance as the year’s best. With this film, he proves he’s a physical actor of phenomenal talent. In a scene where Belfort and Azoff consume 15 year-old Quaaludes with a delayed trigger, DiCaprio rivals the likes of Steve Martin and Charlie Chaplin in his ability to pull off physical comedy. What he does with a Ferrari car door and his leg must be seen to be believed. It got to the point where I couldn’t believe it was DiCaprio, and figured they put his face on a stunt man’s body via CGI. Nope. It’s him.
Hill continues to prove that he possesses good dramatic chops to go with his comedy pedigree. Kyle Chandler provides the film’s moral core—if it actually has one—as an FBI agent looking to take down Belfort. Margot Robbie is especially impressive as Belfort’s alternately commanding and befuddled wife.
Does The Wolf of Wall Street lack certain emotional warmth for its nearly 3 hour running time? Yep, and that’s precisely the point of this movie. Scorsese and DiCaprio are showing us the travesties of an emotionally void, tragically selfish group of people living life through a chemically enhanced haze.
Hey, if these guys weren’t pure bastards when they were committing their crimes, this stuff never would’ve happened, right? No, I wasn’t expecting warm hugs at the end of this pic. These people are terrible—comically terrible—and Scorsese holds nothing back in portraying them this way.
The Wolf of Wall Street is a full blast cinematic assault commandeered by a general masterfully displaying that he’s in no way ready to slow down just yet. It’s not only good—it’s Goodfellas good.