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The Wolf of Wall Street: Review

Posted by Kenneth Shinozuka on January 12, 2014 at 3:10 AM

                                


The Wolf of Wall Street


Released: Wednesday, December 25, 2013


Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio (Jordan Belfort), Jonah Hill (Donnie Azoff), Margot Robbie (Naomi Lapaglia), Kyle Chandler (Patrick Denham), Matthew McConaughey (Mark Hanna)


Director: Martin Scorsese


Screenwriter: Terrence Winter


Runtime: 180 minutes


Rating: R for sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language throughout, and for some violence



97


out of 100



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Early on in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, Matthew McConaughey’s character Mark Hanna, the owner of a brokerage firm in the late 1980s, gives one of the greatest monologues I have perhaps ever seen in the movies. Hanna tells his newly hired employee, a young Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), that there are two keys to success in Wall Street: the first is a rather obscene activity I would rather not mention in a school newspaper, and the second is crack cocaine. Hanna’s description of his preposterously high levels of drug consumption immediately frame a portrait of the rampant excess and self-indulgence in the lifestyles of Wall Street fat cats. We, the audience, are about as shocked as Belfort, who has difficulty transitioning towards the hedonistic and decadent life that his new job has demanded him to accept. After all, Belfort is a family man with an uncorrupted set of morals before he is employed by Wall Street. As he becomes accustomed to his new job, he begins to immerse himself in a sordid world of hookers, alcohol, and drugs. Soon, Belfort and his friend Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) start their own brokerage firm, which quite quickly mushrooms from its headquarters in a Long Island garage into a multi-million-dollar company. Belfort, Azoff, and a crew of handpicked brokers become obsessed with the potential of earning more money – which in the film is called the ultimate drug – so that they can support their extravagant lifestyle. Their illegal financial practices place them in serious trouble with the FBI, and Belfort must witness his empire crumble as all his corrupt deeds come to the light of his family and the public.


Yet the real drug in The Wolf of Wall Street – the best film of 2013 – is not crack cocaine or money, but rather the movie itself. Martin Scorsese’s exhilarating rollercoaster ride into the most depraved pillars of society is a relentless, three-hour onrush of adrenaline, propelled by its riotous script and phenomenal cast. The film’s outrageous depiction of total debauchery – drugs, nudity, and sex – is complemented by its dynamic and explosive sense of humor. Each character is intrinsically hilarious because of how willing he is to sacrifice his dignity in pursuit of short-term gratification. Belfort and his party-hearty friends laughably embarrass themselves on a plane after taking a huge dose of drugs, and Belfort tries pitifully – but amusingly – to crawl on his feet when a dosing of Quaaludes nearly paralyzes him. Yet there is an underlying and deeper context to all of this humor. Scorsese was criticized for glorifying Belfort’s corruption by failing to portray the grave and serious consequences of his actions. But the opposite is true; the sheer genius of Scorsese’s film is that it creates a tragic laughing stock, rather than a comedy, out of Belfort. Our laughter is not only accompanied but also generated by a shame and a pity for Belfort’s unrepentant brazenness. To put it more simply, we laugh only because of how badly he falls on his face. Beneath the façade of the film’s lavish parties lies a somber portrayal of the corrupting influence of money on decent, hard-working people. Belfort’s transformation is evidence of a man whose moral compass was shattered by the false perception that his power and self-worth were determined by the volume of his material wealth.


Perhaps the greatest achievement in The Wolf of Wall Street is Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrait of Jordan Belfort. His work here represents a great actor at the apex of his abilities, a performer whose passion and energy enliven his character and shape him into a monster (or at least a semi-monster) with whom we cannot empathize. DiCaprio captivates our attention for every moment of the film’s three-hour runtime; with each scene, he peels away layers of insight until he reaches the core of Belfort’s egoism and incurable obsession with greed. Indeed, it would be apt to describe Belfort as the wolf of Wall Street, but only if we realize that the only house he blew down was his own. 97/100

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