For the sake of full disclosure, I should admit that I more or less worship the ground that Martin Scorsese walks on. I consider him one of the finest filmmakers both working today, and of all time. The man breathes cinema, pure and simple (seriously: no one can talk so eloquently about the art form, or demonstrate such an all-encompassing understanding and profuse love of it like Scorsese, as evidenced in most any interview with him... Quentin Tarantino comes close, but I could honestly listen to Scorsese talk about film for days). So it makes sense that his films feel a bit otherworldly, like he's visually telling a story on a level that most others can only aspire to. And so my approval of whatever his latest film happens to be is his to lose, not earn, in my book. Still... Scorsese never fails to surprise me. The Wolf of Wall Street is one of the best films of the year, and one of the greatest in his entire filmography. There, I said it. I freaking loved it.
Leonardo DiCaprio continues his now regular collaboration with the maestro, playing Jordan Belfort, a Long Island stockbroker who defrauded investors in a monumental securities scheme involving Wall Street, corporate banking, etc... You know, a normal Tuesday. We, as the audience, are along for the often psychotic and frenetic rollercoaster ride that is Belfort's rise to affluence through fields composed of massive quantities of drugs, sex, money, power, scandal, and parties in houses, offices, and airplanes which may or may not involve monkeys, hookers, and midget tossing.
Needless to say the film is often fairly maniacal, and unafraid to go quite dark. But somehow it all does so in a consistently entertaining fashion. This has drummed up a fair bit of controversy, as accusations have been lobbed at the film that it glamourizes and condones the atrocious behavior of Belfort and his crew. Which is a ridiculous stance to take. Anyone who thinks this film paints the picture of "Hey kids! This is cool and okay!" totally checked their brain at the door upon viewing. The film is from the perspective of Belfort. He is our protagonist, love it or hate it (and as enamored as we have become with antiheros, villains and sociopaths throughout such modern outings as Dexter, House of Cards, and Breaking Bad, to name a few, I'm a bit surprised people are up in arms at all - perhaps it's that it's based on true events here). Throughout this wild ride, Belfort and his team chased women, money, and power in a degenerate downward spiral. And they did so in a mindbending haze of drugs. So at the time, of course it was sexy and appealing (for them). For the film to portray the events otherwise would be a disservice to the narrative, resulting in a judgmental and biased portrayal. I can't imagine a single person walking away thinking "yeah, those were good people... I want to aspire to be like them." And if someone actually does, the problem lies within them, not the film.
That's one of the things Scorsese does so well here. He never passes judgment on the characters or events in his film. He leaves that completely up to the audience (and make no mistake - the audience absolutely should walk away judging these people as terrible, and guilty, by the time the credits roll). Scorsese never condones, nor condemns the behavior and actions. He simply indicts it: this happened. Which is customary of his style, and part of what makes what he does work so well. Aside from that, everything else the man does with this film is pure magic. The camerawork is superb. The pacing of the film is hypnotic. I've heard people complain that the film is too long and drawn out, and that it drags. I don't understand that at all. For a three hour film (exactly), I felt it flew by. And it's one of the few recent films that when it ended, I was left wanting more. No easy feat with such a runtime. Scorsese didn't need to prove himself again, but he has. He's crafted one of his boldest and most ambitious films, one that is definitely his edgiest and most adult (more on that in a minute).
DiCaprio kills it here, end of story. The man turns in what I'd argue might be a career best performance, thus far. Effectively navigating the waters of desperation, egomaniacal pride, obsession, greed, lust and addiction, he gives a ferociously complex and enigmatic performance for the ages that is equal parts repulsive and charismatic. Jonah Hill is excellent, and has officially proven himself as one of the more diverse and all-encompassingly talented actors working today. Hill fought hard for this role, and I honestly don't think there's a more perfect choice than him to play Donnie Azoff, Belfort's partner and best friend. He and DiCaprio have incredible chemistry. Matthew McConaughey shows up for a brief scene or two and steals every second of his screen time. The guy is on such a ridiculously insane roll right now (Killer Joe, Mud, Dallas Buyers Club, HBO's "True Detective") and damn near steals the movie in a matter of minutes. Margot Robbie is astounding as Naomi, Belfort's second wife, exuding fierce confidence, ruthless tenacity, and smoldering sex appeal. Her and DiCaprio's scenes are some of the most sultry (and eventually wholly uncomfortable) moments of the 2013 cinematic year. Then you have Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin, Spike Jonze... This is essentially a dream cast, and they basically ignite the screen and walk away in slow motion. Like a boss.
Terence Winter's script is a fast and furious, razor sharp odyssey through overindulgence and tragedy. It moves at such a breakneck speed, and is consistently eloquent and profound. One of the best screenplays of the year.
Like I said, this is Scorsese's fiercest and most adult film. He never shies away from the depravity of these characters, and often the drug use and sexual content is pretty damn graphic. I've gotten into a few debates with people who felt it was overly excessive, too raunchy, and borderline pornographic. Of course I disagree with all of those statements, but it is very mature, no doubt about it (seriously: oh-so-much drugs and nudity happen here, and it actually sets the record for most uses of the "f word" in a film, ever; somewhere between 506-569, depending on the count). But again, this is all portrayed from the drug-riddled, libidinous perspective of Belfort. Of course we're going to have to delve into the dark side a bit. Such as seeing a plane full of Belfort's crew and hookers in flagrante flying through the air in slow motion when the plane suddenly banks, cocaine cascading about like a pharmaceutical snowstorm (which is only one of multiple literal orgy scenes in the film). Like cocaine through the nostrils, so went the days of their lives.
I'm in awe of how energetic The Wolf of Wall Street is. Scorsese, at 71 years of age, somehow is able to tackle this film like a much younger auteur (it feels like it was physically made by someone in their 30s, but with the experience, wisdom and insight Scorsese has accrued over the years). Quentin Tarantino stated in an interview not long ago that he felt directors don't get better as they get older, and that their last films are usually their worst. I love Tarantino. And I genuinely hope that we have many more Scorsese films in our future. But if there is any validity to Tarantino's claim, Martin Scorsese is absolutely the exception to that damn rule. And how. If the man is capable of mainlining adrenaline cinematically as he does, in spades, with Wolf, I'm clamoring all the more to see what the hell he does next.
This review has been pretty much just me gushing non stop. But I don't apologize. The Wolf of Wall Street is mesmerizing. A blisteringly fantastic film, one of the best of Martin Scorsese's brilliant career, and one of the best films of 2013 (it actually fluctuates between my #2 and #3 spot, depending on what day you ask me). It plays as a sort of thematic kin to Goodfellas and Casino, and almost completes a pseudo-trilogy (it's like Goodfellas on Wall Street, in a lot of ways). I've heard rumor of a 4-hour director's cut that miiiiiiight sneak out at some point (the Blu-ray has virtually no features and screams of "double dip special edition coming soon!"). I hope so, because I need that in my life. Badly. Seriously - I can't say enough good things about this film. See the crap out of it. Now.
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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Filed under: Movies