The main characters of Wolf of Wall Street have been billed wrong in the credits. The real stars are money and cocaine. This is a film about one unredeemable man’s tale of debauchery and the excesses that money can buy. And what excesses they are. The film is filled to the brim and bursting through with strippers, cocaine, quaaludes, and Ferraris. It features all the misogyny money can buy which, as it turns out, is a considerable amount. The reason the film succeeds is that Martin Scorsese frames everything as a dark comedy. An audience would never be able to get behind a group of guys that act this badly if it was played straight. We’re meant to look at them and uncomfortably laugh, knowing that if we were in their position we would never make the same mistakes.
The drug fueled charge is led by Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort, a rising stock broker that dreams big and isn’t happy until he can snort cocaine off the rear end of all the hookers he can find. DiCaprio is captivating in every scene and mesmerizes in his awfulness. Materialistic, greedy, and morally unhinged Belfort blasts through life alternately raising up his friends while utterly demolishing any competition. His attitude is there is nothing that can’t be solved with money. His ambitions are big and he has a drug habit to match. Drug dealers probably weep tears of joy at making his acquaintance. The only hiccup in Belfort’s grand plan was that a less than legal stock market triumph will inevitably arouse the suspicions of the FBI. We know Belfort will go down it’s just a question of how much damage can he do on the way there.
Leonardo DiCaprio continues to amaze and I’m starting to believe that there’s nothing he can’t do. If I remember correctly, when Titanic came out I wrote DiCaprio off as a fad believing that his popularity would wane as soon as his pretty boy looks faded. Turns out he’s still good looking and amazingly talented to boot. I suppose an apology is in order. DiCaprio is in nearly every frame of the film and he never hits a wrong note. While the character’s drives, desires, and motivations may be over-the-top DiCaprio never lets the performance fall victim to camp. It is a glorious revelry in all that debauchery has to offer.
Martin Scorsese directs this film as if he is an ADD riddled teenage male with the shortest of attention spans when drugs and breasts aren’t present. The frenetic energy courses throughout and is all the more a wonder due to the director actually being in his 70’s. Let that sink in for a moment. A film that includes a scene involving a candle and Leonardo DiCaprio’s rear end was directed by a 72 year old. No one can accuse Scorsese of going soft in his old age. This is not in any way meant to say that Scorsese is not successful. He pulls it off brilliantly. The only flaw I see is the running time really could have been trimmed down. Reportedly, Scorsese had to cut the movie down to the 3 hour run time that it currently is and it still could have used a few more cuts. The dark comedyness of the film was running thin as it was and a longer runtime would only have exacerbated the problem. It’s not unenjoyable, just less enjoyable than it could have been.
Wolf of Wall Street succeeds on most levels. The script is solid and tight. The performances are blazingly brilliant. The direction is frenzied and manic in all the right ways. If only the length was tightened up a bit this would be a masterpiece. As it is, it falls just short.