CAPSULE: Sex, drugs, the most beautiful women money can buy, expensive cars, and yachts make up the world of stock scammer Jordan Belfort. There are echoes of GOODFELLAS in Martin Scorsese's portrait of Belfort based on Belfort's own memoir. At three hours in length the film shows enough sex and drug parties that they become repetitive and for some will be unwelcome. But the film almost seems to admire the man called "the world's greatest salesman" and other titles less charitable. The film sports more humor than any Scorsese film since AFTER HOURS. The most serious problem is that the nature of Belfort's crimes afford very little visual depiction. We have to take the story's word that what Belfort did was very, very bad and forget that it looks like fun. Scorsese shows us no victim of Belfort's crimes but Belfort himself and he gets little more than a slap on the wrist from the law. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Martin Scorsese brings to the screen a film of the career of Jordan Belfort.
When Jordan Belfort (played by Scorsese-favorite Leonardo DiCaprio) comes to work as a Wall Street broker he has a lot to learn, but is quickly taken under the wing of a successful dealer, the delightfully off-the-wall Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) who gives Belfort advice on hooking customers and on the importance of well-timed masturbation. Just as Belfort is getting comfortable working for Hanna the bottom falls out from under him and Hanna. But Belfort soon discovers how much more profitable he can make it to deal in "penny" stocks. Armed with this knowledge he builds an organization and an empire on charming customers, employing less than polished salespeople, and telling copious lies. (Which makes this film a good pairing with MARGIN CALL.)
Some of Martin Scorsese's films have the feel of remakes of other films in a different environment. THE KING OF COMEDY felt a lot like a reworking of the plot of his own TAXI DRIVER. THE DEPARTED was openly a reworking of the film INFERNAL AFFAIRS. In a lot of ways THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is structured like his GOODFELLAS. Again it is a study of a criminal. We follow a heady rise of the criminal, which goes by fairly rapidly. The character rides a rollercoaster of success to the top. Then we will look in detail at the events of one day in which things start to get untied. After that our main character has a relatively quick fall and ends up out of prison, but in a much diminished life style. This same structure fit GOODFELLAS and THE WOLF OF WALL STREET.
When Scorsese does traditional crime he has the advantage that the crime is visually dramatic. The crimes are visually interesting. He had more of a challenge with THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, where the actual crimes are someone breaking an abstract law or even just talking on a phone. So for this film his visuals concentrate on the ill-gotten rewards of the crime. Those rewards involve some scenes of drug-taking and a whole lot of scenes of highly attractive naked or near-naked women as well as fast cars and yachts. By an order of magnitude this film has more sex and nudity than any previous Scorsese film in memory. In many ways it also probably has more vulgarity. There is more than a little dry wit. Matthew McConaughey as Hanna turns in his third Academy-Award- nomination-worthy performance in a single year.
The real Belfort was a little more darkly complected than DiCaprio and the latter really seems a little young in the role. He looks like a high school kid pretending to be adult, much as the role he played in CATCH ME IF YOU CAN.
There are other familiar faces like Jon Favreau. Rob Reiner plays Belfort's father. It is good to see still acting longtime British TV staple Joanna Lumley as Aunt Emma. Also, Jean Dujardin plays a Swiss banker. His face should be familiar from his Oscar-winning performance in THE ARTIST and also as OSS 117.
In some ways this is a dangerous film. This is a crime film that de-emphasizes that there were real human victims to the crimes. And Belfort's moral decay is his greatest punishment. Terence Winter (THE SOPRANOS, BOARDWALK EMPIRE) writes the screenplay adapting from Belfort's memoir. At three hours in length the film as a whole does not drag, but some of the individual sequences could certainly have been trimmed. Scorsese give us huge excess in its various party scenes, but probably not as much as Belfort enjoyed in real life. I rate THE WOLF OF WALL STREET a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0993846/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_wolf_of_wall_street_2013/
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2013 Mark R. Leeper