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26 Dec 2013

Scorsese Does It Again: 'Wolf of Wall Street' Is a Sickly Funny, Explosive Treasure

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Jonah Hill and Leonado DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street. Jonah Hill and Leonado DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street.

Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street is an explosive film—like a mortar full of deranged bliss.

Leonardo DiCaprio, in 2013’s best performance, plays slimeball stockbroker and convicted felon Jordan Belfort, a real-life scumbag who made millions selling penny stocks at a Long Island, New York, brokerage. The movie, based on Belfort’s autobiography, takes people doing bad, bad things to an unparalleled extreme.

The film begins with a rosy-cheeked Belfort starting work at a big Manhattan brokerage firm, where a brash, cocaine-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 1987’s Black Monday strikes, destroying his new employer and putting him out of work.

He winds up in a Long Island boiler room schilling penny stocks for 50 percent commission. No problem: 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 that has a first-class appearance—even though 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—but 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 to crazed extremes. Midget-tossing, hookers, half-naked marching bands and goldfish-eating are the orders of the day—with all of these activities enhanced by massive drug and alcohol consumption.

As Ray Liotta did in Goodfellas, DiCaprio talks to the camera on occasion, often during highly elaborate tracking shots (which have become a Scorsese mainstay). It’s in these moments, and during Belfort’s drug-fueled speeches to his crew, when DiCaprio does his most-exhilarating acting to date. He is a formidable competitor for a Best Actor Oscar. He’s certainly my pick.

It’s not just DiCaprio’s verbal pyrotechnics that amaze; in this film, he proves he’s a physical actor with phenomenal talent. In a scene in which Belfort and Azoff consume 15-year-old Quaaludes with a delayed trigger, DiCaprio rivals the likes of Steve Martin and Charlie Chaplin in his physical comedy. What he does with a Ferrari door and his leg must be seen to be believed. I couldn’t believe it was DiCaprio, and figured they must have put his face on a stunt man’s body via CGI. Nope, it’s him.

Hill continues to prove that he has good dramatic chops, and Kyle Chandler provides the films moral core (if it actually has one) as an FBI agent looking to take Belfort down. Margot Robbie is especially impressive as Belfort’s alternately commanding and befuddled wife.

Does The Wolf of Wall Street lack emotional warmth? Yes—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. These people are terrible—comically terrible—and Scorsese holds nothing back in portraying them as such.

The Wolf of Wall Street shows Scorsese is in no way ready to slow down just yet. It’s not only good … it’s Goodfellas good.

The Wolf of Wall Street is playing at theaters across the valley.

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