Disclaimer: I’m going to try and be professional here and not gush over this movie.
When it comes to elite directors, there are very few lists that will not include Martin Scorsese. There’s no doubt of his prowess as a visionary storyteller. When I first heard about Wolf of Wall Street, I got excited. This is exactly the kind of movie that is thoroughly entrenched in Scorsese’s wheelhouse. Then I found out that it was based on Jordan Belfort’s autobiographies (“The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Catching The Wolf of Wall Street”) and was a bit hesitant. Watching a movie based around what some swindler thinks of himself isn’t all that interesting, but after watching the trailer, I was hooked. I mean, who was I to doubt Martin Scorsese?
There is a lot to love in this film, and a lot to hate in this film, but that hate? You love to hate it. It’s the late-80s and Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a young man in his early 20s residing from the Bronx when he becomes involved in the world of cold-calling stockbrokers. The man running the floor, Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), takes a quick liking to Jordan because he showed tenacity in pitching a stock during his interview. Taking him under his wing, Jordan is quick to learn the ropes on how to basically swindle rich people out of their money by never letting them cash out from the stock market. If they want to cash out, it is Jordan’s job to pretend that there is a opportunity in a new stock to gain more profit and the vicious circle continues. The person is getting rich, but only on paper, while the stock broker is getting 10% commission and living lavishly. Then on October 19th, 1987 (Black Monday), the stock market saw the biggest crash since The Great Depression and Jordan found himself without a job because everyone wanted to sell their stock and didn’t trust stockbrokers.
That is, until Jordan learned about penny stocks and the fact that they garner 50% commission. This allowed Jordan the opportunity to build an empire off of the shady and fraudulent scheme. He started what is referred to as a “boiler room” where with just some close friends that knew how to sell, he began a business in a small location. With a script prepared by Jordan himself, the company was booming in no time, and what was a handful of employees turned into one thousand employees. The name of the game was defrauding investors, and everyone wanted a piece of the heavy commission.
Jordan Belfort became a business god and keeping up with calls meant increasing exhaustion and the cure was sex, drugs, and midget-tossing. The film pulls no punches in its journey to almost land an NC-17 rating. There’s Scorsese’s signature use of curse words in every sentence, gratuitous amounts of nudity, and all the drug use you can shake a stick at. Not to mention a scene involving Popeye that will blow your mind with hilarity. And that’s the best thing about this movie: it’s genuinely very funny. The comedy hides the fact that this is a very serious crime and really makes you want to like Jordan, despite the fact that he’s becoming greedy and swindling innocent people out of their money. In the movie he is described as a “twisted Robin Hood that takes from the rich and gives to himself” and it’s pretty much a perfect description of who this guy is. Getting more money becomes the most important aspect of his life. He needs his money, he needs his Quaaludes, and he needs his hookers (despite having a beautiful and buxom second wife played by Margot Robbie.) Jordan Belfort and his team look out for each other even when the FBI starts looking into the racket, but how long can Jordan really avoid getting caught?
If you’ve seen “Goodfellas” or “Casino” then you know the style of movie with which “Wolf of Wall Street” is presented. It’s pretty easy to say that it’s Scorsese’s most stylish movie since “Goodfellas” and that’s because there’s just something inherently cool about how everyone is presented here. However, the only way that works is if the acting is strong, and the acting is strong. At one point it truly feels like it’s Jordan Belfort and not Leonardo DiCaprio that is telling you, the audience, that you can do this too. (The film adopts the narrative style of “Goodfellas”.) Something inside makes you feel like you want Jordan to succeed to the point where towards the end of the movie people actually react in shock at his behavior, all the while forgetting that this is not a good person. Strong performances from Jonah Hill, Jean Dujardin, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, and the rest of the cast only further cement that. Scorsese always has a way of weaving a story in the direction he wants you to see it, and it’s most prevalent here.
Anybody can pretty much figure out how this movie ends. Jordan’s journey is predictable (and can already be looked up online anyway), but it’s the journey itself that is so very entertaining. Living vicariously through these people brings in the entertainment, and watching them crash and lose it all is incredibly interesting. This isn’t a spoiler, it’s a forgone conclusion. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the movie of the year. There is just something so fascinating about how someone’s life can change in an instant due to someone’s reaction to a simple statement.
“Sell me this pen.”