Movie Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

Oh look, here’s another one. This one only just came out yesterday in Australia.

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Starring:
Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey
Director: Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas, The Departed)
Rating: R18+
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I would be lying if I said I had seen all of Martin Scorsese‘s movies, or even all of the movies that piqued my interest from him. Despite how renowned the American is as a cinematic legend, and for good reason, there are certain common traits about his movies – mainly their really long run time – that have impeded my desire to seek them out. I enjoyed his secret identity gangster flick The Departed and his unexpectedly competent, beautiful family movie Hugo, but both films caught me looking at my watch more than once wondering just how much longer I would have to wait until the next story event happened. The same problem ultimately hampers his latest effort The Wolf of Wall Street – at 2 hours 59 minutes it’s even longer than any of his best-known films – even if it remains so damn entertaining throughout that it almost manages to overcome the issue.

The Wolf of Wall Street tells the (slightly embellished) true story of stockbroker Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), a noted fraudster operating in the late 80s and early 90s who made his fortune by overselling near-worthless “penny stocks” to impressionable buyers because of the ridiculous commision rates they afforded. You don’t have to know the first thing about the stock market to understand the thrust of the story, which is that Belfort is a bad man who does bad things to get money and then spends it on a life of debauchery. One of the big controversies surrounding The Wolf of Wall Street is that said debauchery is the primary focus of the film rather than, say, Belfort’s punishment or redemption. And make no mistake, the R-rated movie IS NOT for everyone. Gratuitous drug use, nudity and a literally record-breaking amount of course language is on display throughout.

If DiCaprio hadn’t already played the vile Calvin Candy in Quentin Tarantino‘s Django Unchained, Jordan Belfort would have been far and away his most despicable role yet. The powerful actor has made a name for himself as an expert in portraying villainy with a liberal dose of charm, which he does here to great fourth wall-breaking effect with the added bonus of being really funny. His unexpected talent for comedy (which The Wolf of Wall Street essentially is, despite the serious subject matter) shines through in a number of places but none more so than in a sequence involving a flight of stairs and a car, which had me in stitches at the sheer ludicrousness efficacy of it all. I wouldn’t be surprised to see DiCaprio appearing in some rather different roles as his career rolls on.

The consistently Oscar-deprived star is very ably supported by a cast that simply oozes the manic energy the film desperately needed if it was going to work at all. Chief among these is the dim-witted Donny Azoff, Belfort’s second in command, brought to life by the now twice Academy-nominated Jonah Hill (how weird is that?). Donny is arguably even worse than Jordan but Hill keeps him uproariously watchable. In what barely shakes out as a cameo given how long the film is, Matthew McConaughey rocks the screen as Belfort’s early mentor in the avaricious ways of the Wall Street swindler, while Rob Reiner is a hoot as Belfort’s dad “Mad Max”. Kyle Chandler plays the crucial straight man role as a sarcastic FBI agent and Australian Neighbours alum Margo Robbie holds her own as Belfort’s increasingly distressed trophy wife. The remainder of the cast comes along for the ride, never selling the ridiculous charade better than in their feverish, almost rabid reactions to DiCaprio‘s grandiose office speeches.

The Wolf of Wall Street succeeds with vigour at doing what it sets out to do: showcasing the meteoric rise of a bunch of corrupt men in nice suits and the allure of the bad behaviour they get up to. I cannot buy the argument that the film glorifies either said behaviour or the awful means of affording it, as it makes multiple references both at the beginning and the end of the film to just how messed up everything is. But the extended middle stretch of the movie, which is ultimately where the biggest arguments could be made for cutting scenes out in the name of a more merciful run time, is an entertaining thrill ride that proves Martin Scorsese‘s wide range of talents as a director of comedy. If you do find yourself getting caught up in all the energetic ill-earned depravity, well, Mr Scorsese may just have made his point.

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THE VERDICT

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Good:
Great performances, impeccably well made, near-constantly entertaining
Bad:
Way too long
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515/110A M A Z I N G

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