The Wolf of Wall Street Review
by Daniel Rester
Nobody makes films like Martin Scorsese. Now at age 71, Scorsese once again proves why he is a master filmmaker with his newest film: The Wolf of Wall Street. Street, based on the memoir of the same name by Jordan Belfort, may just be the funniest film the legendary director has made. It also finds him digging through new and dirty territory in terms of style, displaying more sex, nudity, and drug use in it than in any of his other films.
Street also finds Scorsese’s frequent collaborator of recent years, Leonardo DiCaprio, on new ground. The actor plays Belfort, and he is on fire in the role. It’s one of the best performances of the actor’s career, and what a career it has been. Despite giving many great performances, we have never seen DiCaprio quite like this. He plays Belfort with energy and sting, diving into the role and taking on comedic touches that are rare for him. It will be sad if DiCaprio once again comes up Oscar-less this awards season.
The story of Street takes place during the 1980s and 1990s. It concerns how Belfort rose from being a middle-class boy to an affluent stockbroker in New York, and how his illegal activities eventually led to his downfall. The film begins with Belfort as a minor player at a firm. He goes under the wing of a sleazy broker named Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), learning a few tricks before he is eventually laid off because of Black Monday.
Despite the setback, Belfort pushes on and creates Stratton Oakmont, a penny-stock boiler room used for the “pump and dump” routine. He does this with a partner named Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) – who is based on the real-life person Danny Porush – and a team of friends; the friends include supporting characters known by such names as “Rugrat” Nicky Koskoff (P.J. Byrne) and Brad Bodnick (Jon Bernthal), the “Quaalude King of Bayside.” The firm soon grows in size, and so does Belfort and Azoff’s appetite for all sorts of debauchery.
A few other key players are soon thrown in the mix, including Belfort’s sexy second wife, Naomi (Margot Robbie). There is also Max (Rob Reiner), who is Belfort’s father and office enforcer, and Jean Jacques Saurel (Jean Dujardin, from The Artist (2011)), a crafty banker from Switzerland who helps Belfort with his money. And then there is Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler), an FBI agent determined to put Belfort and his hyenas behind bars.
Scorsese’s film is an epic dark comedy, vital in the truths it speaks about the greed of Wall Street in both the past and present. If one just swaps gangsters and violence (like in Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990)) for stockbrokers and drugs and sex, then you have Scorsese still working his magical ways with how he displays low-lives. We get the learning and rising, the large run of excess, and the eventual slide into hell.
Screenwriter Terence Winter — who has crafted some excellent passages and dialogue here — and Scorsese have provided a flashy show to chew on with Street. The film is ultra-stylish, hilarious, and very entertaining, fully displaying the “fun” that these scheming people had in their party days. But it’s also a long film (too long) that works as a cautionary tale underneath the surface, filling the screen with insane excess and dislikable people. Such a blend of craziness will not be for all tastes (and things do get repetitive at times), but there is no denying the exceptional writing and filmmaking skills from Winter and Scorsese.
Scorsese and Winter couldn’t have pulled it off without such a great team, though. The always-reliable Thelma Schoonmaker puts her editing skills to the test here, providing a terrific flow of things through her precise cuts and making the three-hour runtime go smoothly. Also amazing is the cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto, which is full of those classic Scorsese camera pushes. The costumes and production design are also spot-on, while the soundtrack is full of catchy tunes. All of these pieces, matched with Scorsese and Winter’s exploration of fowl people and their doings, make for an exhilarating experience.
All of the crew’s work would be for naught if it weren’t for the acting, though. As mentioned, DiCaprio is brilliant and electric in the lead, but he is surrounded by a lot of talent on the screen. Hill gives the best performance of his young career as Azoff, a wild man who likes to party and is prone to outbursts; the chemistry between DiCaprio and him brings about memories of the days of Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci in Scorsese films. McConaughey is perhaps second-best in the film, however, turning on the fireworks in the very few scenes that he is in.
Robbie is both beautiful and tough as Naomi, and she completely holds her own as the main female. Dujardin, Bernthal, and Byrne are all fun in their smaller parts, and Reiner is a hoot as Belfort’s dad; we also get two other directors in small parts, who are Jon Favreau and Spike Jonze. Chandler is impressive as well as FBI agent Denham, who especially shines in a dialogue-free scene near the end. There is also a cameo by the real-life Belfort, who did end up spending 22 months in prison for his criminal activities.
Street is a beast of a film and a near-masterpiece, working as Scorsese’s best work (in my opinion, of course) since The Departed (2006). It is an overlong, extreme film that is full of rotten characters, but it’s also full of remarkable performances and style. Street may divide audiences in terms of its content, but there is no opposing that Scorsese and DiCaprio are both in top form here.
Score: 3 ½ out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: A)
MPAA Rating: R (for sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use, and language throughout, and for some violence).
Runtime: 3 hours.