Niagara Gazette — “The Wolf Of Wall Street, director Martin Scorsese’s latest foray into biographical cinema, is a non-stop, pulsating adrenaline rush about Wall Street duplicity in the go-go 1990s as only Scorsese can deliver it.
Leonardo DiCaprio gives an Oscar-worthy performance as a corporate trader who fleeces those who are ripe to be fleeced; serious investors who should be smarter and suburban mooks who couldn’t be dumber, all looking for an easy road to riches. DiCaprio is over-the-top in the best way possible. He's exciting to watch.
The movie celebrates sex, drugs, and rock and roll the way Scorsese likes to do it. The film, which is based on the true story of stock manipulator Jordon Belfort, is wickedly funny and never falters in its ferocious effort to satisfy moviegoers. DiCaprio plays Belfort. It’s his fifth time working with Scorsese, the other movies being “Gangs Of New York,” “The Aviator,” “The Departed” and “Shutter Island.”
The main supporting cast is outstanding, including Jean Dujardin as a friendly Swiss banker, Margot Robbie as a beautiful woman along for the ride of a lifetime, Kyle Chandler as a straight arrow FBI investigator, and Jon Bernthal as a muscle-bound fixer. There’s also Cristin Milioti as Belfort’s first wife, Rob Reiner as his father, and Jonah Hill as his devoted and obedient right-hand man. Also in the film are Ethan Suplee, Joanna Lumley, Christine Ebersole, Fran Lebowitz, and Jon Favreau. Everything about “The Wolf Of Wall Street” is top-notch, but special praise goes to the work of long-time Scorsese editor Thelma Schoonmaker and to Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography.
The picture is a breathless adventure in wealth and excess, similar in style to Scorsese's own "Goodfellas" in terms of narration, pacing, and energy, but without the manic violence. Instead of mob paranoia and retribution, here you’ve got innocent investors becoming hurt, mired as they are in corporate malfeasance. If greed was good in Oliver Stone's "Wall Street," then greed is even better and much more fun in Scorsese's picture. The movie is three-hours long, but I never felt its length for a second. Corruption has never been this dazzling.
In the film, Belfort, who’s as average a working-class hero as anyone could possibly be, begins his financial career at a serious Wall Street firm under the watchful eye of a stock trader, played in a cameo appearance by Matthew McConaughey. The market crashes exactly as his job is starting. This was on October 19, 1987, which is also known as Black Monday. The failures upended Belfort’s life, and he eventually finds himself working at a two-bit investment company that thrives on selling questionable penny stocks. Its employees push the limits of the truth as to how valuable anyone’s holdings are. Belfort learns the ropes very quickly and smells a profitable scheme. He’s soon running his own company that grows quickly from a dozen to hundreds of staff members. They engage in business practices that allow for clients to be lied to routinely. Some profits are hidden in Swiss bank accounts, some money is laundered, and the normal rules of the workplace, including drug use and sexual manipulation, are thrown by the wayside. The SEC is fooled for a while, but the FBI refuses to go away, or to be conned or bribed.
Through it all, Belfort lives the good life, which includes luxury homes, lavish parties, a 170-foot yacht, a Gulfstream jet, and a helicopter. There’s so much money coming in that when he sinks his own boat, it doesn’t phase him at all. His hotel bills are legendary. He’s a good-looking fast-talker, and he can have sex with any willing woman. His marriages are irrelevant to him. In his world, drugs and nudity abound. Belfort’s wife might be swathed in silk, gold and mink, and his kids might have ever toy imaginable, but more often than not, they are waiting impatiently at home for dad. Not a problem for him, he can buy their love with gifts.
He has no qualms about bedding available women (usually upscale prostitutes) during his beloved party nights, and then paying an astonishing $700,000 hotel tab with a smile. The suite might be destroyed, but Belfort makes good. He is the consummate con artist, knowing instinctively that even if some people avoid buying stocks, they could still be convinced to take some advance money for their home mortgages The blending of illicit drug sales and high finance is also a factor woven throughout the story. Belfort travels around the world and retains a loving loyalty to his parents. His employees worship and adore him.
What makes “The Wolf Of Wall Street” so mandatory is how all of this is depicted. Scorsese is a master at revving up an audience. When he’s running on all cylinders, nobody’s better. Here the horsepower is over the moon and his star horse, DiCaprio, is ready, willing and able to lead the charge. One thing Scorsese has done, and done very well, is to have Belfort narrate the feature from within scenes, often talking directly to the audience, and then returning to the action. It’s a device that would be disastrous in less capable hands. DiCaprio makes these acting switches like a master. He’s the heart and soul of the movie, from Belfort’s glory days to his panicked downward slide.
The superb and vibrant screenplay by Terence Winter, a writer and producer for “The Sopranos” and “Boardwalk Empire,” is based on Belfort’s autobiography, “The Wolf Of Wall Street,” which chronicles how he and his wild gang of traders at his gleaming Long Island headquarters of Stratton Oakmont established new rules for greed and excess. The more money they made, the more they wanted to make. And they had the power to push everyone out of the way.
Since it opened, and took in a little more than $34,000,000 at the box office in its first five days, something odd has happened to “The Wolf Of Wall Street.” The film’s success has become a rallying cry for people demanding that no one go see it because they’ve decided that it’s immoral. Some of the denunciators haven’t even seen the picture.
Here’s what’s going on. My immediate reaction after seeing the movie was positive. I thought it was a high-energy tale about evil high-risk people, especially the conniving Belfort. It never dawned on me that the thematic elements of the picture were presented in the wrong way. It never made me want to go out and sell worthless penny stocks to every unsuspecting dupe residing in a nursing home.
It seems, according to a gaggle of critics and moralists, that the film shouldn’t celebrate the life of Jordan Belfort because he’s alive and has profited from the sale of his book to Scorsese and his team. These purists and pontificators must have access to the contract Belfort signed because they seem to believe he will also be profiting from ticket sales. I don’t know if that’s true. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.
Their point, which is so ludicrous that it borders on lunacy, is that because Scorsese is such a good filmmaker, he’s made Belfort’s criminal acts relatable, enviable, and — look out for this one — horror of horrors, he’s made them entertaining. They don’t want people to see “The Wolf Of Wall Street,” and they don’t want anyone to enjoy it if they do go.
I’m an open-minded person when it comes to artistic expression, and I am a stickler for something. It’s this: Anyone who offers an opinion about the quality of a movie they haven’t seen is a fool. In the case of “The Wolf Of Wall Street,” I think the agenda of the naysayers is more ridiculous than moral. The characters lack morals, not the movie.
If filmmakers avoided telling stories about real-life villains, this decision would have eliminated oh, I don’t know, more than half the movies ever made. I don’t intend to list all the films about actual bad people, but let’s start with director Arthur Penn’s masterful “Bonnie And Clyde” starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. You can go on from there.
The problem now is that some of those who haven’t seen “The Wolf Of Wall Street” are parroting the hostility towards it. They’re repeating the pretentious things being said or written about it, but they have no validity. One of the best things about being a movie critic is that we almost always get to see films publicity-free, before any overblown hype (positive or negative) has begun. It’s a wonderful perk of the job.
Not once, not for one single solitary second while watching “The Wolf Of Wall Street” did I consider it immoral. Not for a moment did I think Scorsese was honoring a villain. He is chronicling the events of Belfort's life, and he’s telling it in the manner that all movies should be made: alive and with craftsmanship that is as good as what an audience deserves. And audiences deserve the best effort possible.
So, this sudden moralizing, some of it from supposedly intelligent movie critics no less, has truly surprised me. Movies aren't the devil. It’s the characters in movies that are evil. No one is forced to go see “The Wolf Of Wall Street;” however, to not see it because it’s about a mean person who did bad things to good people is laughable. That’s the worst kind of pop psychology.
Scorsese long ago proved he’s one of the world’s greatest film artists. He doesn’t need any more certification for his talent or his vision. But there’s always special pleasure to be derived when the work of someone you appreciate is so very good. “The Wolf Of Wall Street” is an absolute must-see.Michael Calleri reviews films for Night and Day. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.