Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Wolf of Wall Street

Jordan Belfort, a Bronx youth of humble beginnings, soaring ambitions, and unrequited appetites began modestly as a grunt at a Wall Street firm before losing his brokerage job during the stock market crash of 1987. Forced to go to work for a rinky dink suburban storefront operation selling penny stocks to desperate investors, he hit upon the brilliant idea of training a band of none too bright, wide eyed entry levelers to pawn these worthless commodities upon the major traders. Setting up his Stratton Oakmont firm in Long Island, a raucous den of unbridled hedonism, Belfort raked it in hand over fist while commanding his troops and bulldozing through masses of pills, booze, hookers, and coke before an SEC fraud charge coupled with an FBI investigation brought an end to his merry reign. Working together for the fifth time, Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio push this true life story of greed and blatant self-indulgence to the limit, and instead of moralizing and offering haughty statements on capitalism as one would expect from this type of picture, they present it at face value and make their point in smaller moments amidst all the glut and insanity. The film took a little while to pull me in, and it didn't always work when it did, but when the film clicks it is absolute dynamite. And despite all the constant excesses on hand, Terrance Winter's screenplay manages to captivate and not wear you down like Belfort's redundant, ego-stroking memoir upon which the movie is based. DiCaprio is in top form with another extremely demanding, mostly comical performance and Jonah Hill has also found himself another fine supporting part as Belfort's shameless right hand man. I had problems with some of the casting, Rob Reiner most glaringly as Leo's father and Margot Robbie as his trophy wife but some of the supporting performances are of high order: Matthew McConaughey in the opening scenes, Jon Bernthal as a muscle bound pill pusher, and Kyle Chandler who is integral to some of the best scenes in the picture playing a tenacious FBI agent. With The Wolf of Wall Street, Scorsese covers a lot of prior territory, but the film never seems dull or longish during its epic running length, and achieves something remarkable in many of the disorderly scenes and, again, in the fleeting, quiet ones.