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The Wolf of Wall Street – Movie Review

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The Wolf of Wall Street – Movie Review

Rating: A- (Great)

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Gordon Gekko famously said in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, that “Greed is good”, unintentionally inspiring many future stock brokers. After The Wolf of Wall Street, Gekko comes off as very tame in his approach to the stock market. Through these three hours of runtime, Martin Scorsese launches the audience into a manic world filled with some of the most unsympathetic characters he has put on screen. Considering he has previously made films about psychopaths, gangsters and violent misogynists, that is quite an accomplishment. Unlike the mafia in Goodfellas, there is no glorifying the actions of these people and the amount of drugs and sex is far ahead of any previous movie Scorsese has directed. This will certainly not be everyone’s cup of tea as it is an unflinching portrait of the one-percent who control our economy and for some, spending three hours with them might seem like overkill. However, to me, Scorsese was able to craft a unrelenting story that makes no apologies for how its despicable characters are portrayed.

Through the course of The Wolf of Wall Street, the audience is introduced to one boisterous, loud-mouthed character after another with not a filter in sight. This could get frustrating quickly as there is nobody to latch onto, but this is a story that doesn’t need that sort of protagonist. This is merely meant to be an uncensored motley crew lead by their crazy captain, while also serving as a necessary commentary of those who hold control over our livelihood. The whole idea is to make money to spend it on superfluous possessions. Why would a very wealthy individual need to partake in drugs? What is gained by buying a massive yacht with a helicopter dock? Apparently something to Belfort and his associates. They have no moral compass and Belfort does not even bat an eye when an FBI agent pays him a visit. The Wolf of Wall Street is, at its core, a cautionary tale on what not to do when one has so much money at their disposal. However, that an actual person did spend his vast amounts of money without thought and gained it through some illegal methods is only a fraction of the insanity running through the movie.

Scorsese is also smart not to glorify the lifestyles of these characters, owing to his expert ability at creating dynamic personalities out of people doing bad things. However, unlike Goodfellas and Taxi Driver, where there is still an element of sympathy towards its leads, Jordan Belfort is the last person he wants us to like. The way his repulsive behaviour is depicted doesn’t feel forced in any way, either, despite all of the drugs and sex thrown at the screen. Leonardo DiCaprio puts all of the necessary intense weight into his performance, relaying both the excess and the humour of Jordan Belfort tremendously well. When he motivates his troop of stock brokers, it’s not hard to see why they would follow him into kingdom come, even though the path he takes them down is hardly the most moral and legal. A boisterous leader inspires an equally rambunctious crowd and when he starts a party, it’s one manic event. Belfort is basically the equivalent of a irresponsible father placing even more of a bad influence on an unruly child, or large group of children in this case.

The humour in Terence Winter’s screenplay is able to be sharp and intelligent, despite the whirlwind of swear words the characters utter. The best and funniest scene in the movie does not even take place on Wall Street or even has much dialogue, as Belfort and his associate Donnie suffer a bad drug reaction. DiCaprio contorts his body in every way in an impressive display of physical comedy, completely immersing himself into the challenges required. Jonah Hill, meanwhile, brings a suitably creepy vibe to Donnie, further accented by his perfectly symmetrical white teeth that gives off the right falseness to Donnie. If Belfort is slimy, Donnie is even more-so and Hill is very believable in the role of somebody who really shouldn’t have a top position at a company.

Kyle Chandler is appropriately the most down-to-earth of the actors here and whenever he commands the screen, Scorsese calms down the manic editing for a while. He portrays FBI agent Patrick Denham as somebody who could burst, but doesn’t as that would make him as unlikeable as the stock brokers he is trying to apprehend. Despite his third name billing, Matthew McConaughey has only about five minutes of screen time, but he makes a very memorable impact. Unlike Belfort, he hides his horrible behaviour under a boatload of charm and even though he is never seen again after the twenty-minute mark, he is not forgotten.

Being three hours long, The Wolf of Wall Street could threaten to become restless and while a snippet or two could have been cut here and there, it still feels about thirty minutes shorter than it actually is. Thelma Schoonmaker and Martin Scorsese have one of the best editor-director relationships in the business as the two sync up perfectly with her completely understanding what he wants in a certain cut. With the on-going narration and the way it cuts between characters and situations, it certainly brings to mind their work on Goodfellas and while I don’t think this quite reaches the level of that masterpiece, Schoonmaker’s editing and Scorsese’s direction still flow tremendously well together. The heavy amount of debauchery and excesses is certain to turn off plenty of viewers, but the key to the film’s satire is that Scorsese is not endorsing their behaviour. These are all horrible, boisterous and despicable people who probably had a hand in every single financial crisis we’ve faced. The fact that the stock market has such an impact on the world’s stability is actually quite sad and Martin Scorsese lets them have it.

Review By: Stefan Ellison

THE SCENE


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