- Adam Carr
Seek "The Wolf"
“The Wolf of Wall Street” is director Martin Scorsese and actor Leonardo DiCaprio’s adaptation of Jordan Belfort’s – a former Wall Street broker and penny stocks trader – memoir of the same title. Mr. Belfort had an early craving for money and set off to Wall Street to accumulate all he could. He learned the secrets of selling to both the middle class and the one percent. His addiction to money grew after each commission, blurring the lines between legal and unlawful practices. Belfort’s story is about the depth to which one man can plunge into debauchery. In the hands of Mr. Scorsese, “The Wolf of Wall Street” is a one-hundred and seventy-nine minute malfeasant’s feast on unlimited riches but also its consequences. There is nothing more entertaining in the movie theaters today. It is one of Mr. Scorsese’s best and certainly one of the best films of 2013.
“The Wolf of Wall Street” is told from the point of view of the wolf, not the sheep. The victims of Mr. Belfort’s schemes and deception have another story to tell and probably not as flamboyantly. But this is not their story. Mr. Belfort (Mr. DiCaprio) is focused on one thing and so is this movie: money. As a young upstart he ventures onto Wall Street and is hired by a major firm. He is tutored by a senior broker (Matthew McConaughey) about what his focus at the firm should be and, hint, it’s not about the client’s well-being. After the crash of ’87, Mr. Belfort is let go and finds himself in a hole-in-the-wall outfit selling penny stocks to middle class investors. He shines. He creates his own firm and hires friends in the neighborhood whose only selling experience is with marijuana. They shine. They grow confident enough to begin selling their small stocks to major investors. As they reap in more commission, we watch what they do with it.
The screenplay, written by Terence Winter, is structured similarly to that of “Goodfellas.” This gave me a small amount of trepidation attending this movie. Blatant imitation of Mr. Scorsese’s earlier masterpiece doesn’t bode well for the movie-watching experience whether it be “Blow” (disaster) or even Mr. Scorsese’s own “Casino” (disappointing). But “The Wolf” doesn’t bring “Goodfellas” to mind. The movie is a hybrid of movie and literary adaption. Mr. Winter constructs the film around Mr. Belfort’s narration of his story just as though we were reading his memoir. When it is necessary to know what a character is thinking, we hear it. There isn’t so much of a story with a plot. We know where Mr. Belfort is headed. Instead we watch a series of vignettes about how Mr. Belfort collected his millions and his fall. As adapted by Mr. Winter, each one is original and entertaining.
A movie is only as good as the leading character’s ability to lure in the audience. It doesn’t matter if they are good or bad as long as they keep your attention for the length of the movie. It is a testament to Mr. DiCaprio’s performance that a three hour journey with Mr. Belfort flies by and we don’t mind it when he’s caught between the manure and the fan. There is no question of Mr. DiCaprio’s talents and “The Wolf of Wall Street” makes him stretch every inch of them. He has the charm to make Mr. Belfort likable and isn’t afraid to exhibit the arrogance of someone who has no qualms about suckering the average guy and then, literally, throwing away the cash he just took from him. On the other end of the spectrum, Mr. DiCaprio gets dirty exhibiting the crash from all of the consumed drugs. It is an epic performance that doesn’t show a false note.
The other major player in “The Wolf of Wall Street” is Donnie Asoff, played by Jonah Hill. Mr. Hill has so far enjoyed a career where he has essentially played the same character in different roles. He was the straight man to all the comedy going on around him whether it was in “Get Him to the Greek,” “21 Jump Street,” “Moneyball” or even when he went a little darker as in “Cyrus.” He never ventured outside of a limited zone. But as Donnie Asoff, we see that Mr. Hill only had reins on and Mr. Scorsese released him from them. Donnie shares Mr. Belfort’s affinity for money and drugs. The difference between the two characters, though, is Donnie’s manners and sense are less refined than Mr. Belfort’s. He is a natural born idiot and Mr. Hill sheds all reserve to bring Donnie’s unruliness to the forefront. Mr. Hill is brilliant.
Mr. Scorsese is a legendary director and with good reason. He has a distinct style that is easily identifiable should one happen upon the middle of any of his pictures. As closely structured as it was to “Goodfellas,” there was a sense that “The Wolf of Wall Street” would just mimic Mr. Scorsese’s earlier classic. That is not the case. Mr. Scorsese uses the usual methods from his repertoire but also expands. He has always moved his camera but in “The Wolf” he lets some scenes play out while his cast does what they do best. This is the most originally directed film from this auteur since the seventies.
There might be an argument that the film plays too long. After so many scenes of drug taking and sexual conquests exhaustion might set in. But “The Wolf of Wall Street” is a prime example of what happens when all the cylinders of filmmaking- e.g. directing, acting, photography, screenplay, etc.- are clicking at a high pace. Boredom never gets a chance to show up. This is one of the best movies of 2013.