The Wolf of Wall Street
The wolf of Wall Street is terrible. I’m talking about the person, Jordan Belfort. The movie about him, based on his memoir, is fantastic. But Belfort is a disgusting person. Yet I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen (it was definitely more difficult to read his memoir) and that’s kind of the point: we love train wrecks and we all want to be rich.
The Wolf of Wall Street tells Belfort’s story, from his first day at a brokerage firm (where he meets his mentor, Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey)) to the fateful day he starts his own firm all the way to when he got caught and “punished” (though not nearly enough, in my opinion). Along the way, Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) partners with all types of shady associates; picks up a raging drug habit (often enabled by his best friend and business partner Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill, going full-manic), who, as a character in the film, is an amalgam of people from the real Belfort’s life); enlists the services of hookers of all sorts; goes through two marriages (his second wife is Naomi (a strong Margot Robbie)); and breaks a multitude of securities laws.
Celebrated director Martin Scorsese (Hugo) sets the tone just right. His direction is unflinching, with expert editing to punctuate just the right moment. He also balances the comedy and depravity well so that audiences aren’t laughing when they shouldn’t be. (I can’t tell you how many times direction has misfired throughout so that the audience is laughing at a somber, not at all comedic moment.) And yes, you will absolutely laugh out loud. (Watch Rob Reiner (as Belfort’s dad) and Hill go round and round over an American Express bill. Comedy gold.)
The things these guys do and so much of what happens to Jordan is so unbelievable; if you didn’t know this was based on his memoir, you’d think Terence Winter, who wrote the screenplay, was out of his mind. But really, it’s just that Jordan was out of his mind.
Though much is understandably left out, all the right things are in place (even if they're out of sequence, based on the memoir). There is no doubt that Belfort was out of control. There is no doubt he took too many drugs and treated people as objects. There is no doubt he thought he was invincible. And Scorsese and Winter (Boardwalk Empire) leave in enough key moments to drive this home.
Leonardo DiCaprio does his part, too. DiCaprio’s so good at showing the change in Jordan. In his first meeting with mentor Hanna, Belfort is green and naive, which is obvious in DiCaprio’s face and cadence. Not long after, we see Belfort in the conference room of Stratton Oakmont (the firm Belfort created), and DiCaprio (Django Unchained) is in full-on swagger mode, absolutely commanding the room, exuding this douchiness and sense of not only entitlement but a delusional sense of being untouchable. (Further evidence of Belfort’s huge ego: he just had to appear in the film; he appears in the final scene.)
This is an entirely different character for DiCaprio, and he just keeps getting better. The thing about DiCaprio is that when he’s acting, he has no sense of vanity. This allows him to go bat shit crazy on screen, to be ugly, sleazy and unlikable. Other actors might have blanched at some of the raucousness that needed to be portrayed, afraid how he might appear on screen. But not Leo. He fully commits to everything he does. Watch this movie and wait for the crawling-to-the-car scene. That’s why you get Leonardo DiCaprio.
(Here are some things that, despite DiCaprio’s performance and all that Scorsese and Winter leave in, you don’t get from the film: Belfort is a poor and lazy writer; Belfort’s editor apparently doesn’t know that Frankenstein is the doctor, not the monster; and Belfort has a huge chip on his shoulder about being Jewish, which, of course, doesn't stop him form marrying two shiksas and giving his children the most goyishe names I’ve ever heard: Chandler (his daughter) and Carter (his son); their names are changed for the film. End of rant.)
Bonus fun: Since most of this film was shot in New York, theatre folks keep popping up. Tony nominee Cristin Milioti (Once) is prominently featured as Belfort’s first wife. Aaron Lazar (A Little Night Music) brings Belfort’s second wife to the party where they first meet. AbFab favorite Joanna Lumley (La Bete) plays the pivotal role of Naomi’s Aunt Emma. And Christine Ebersole, Aya Cash, Steven Boyer and American Idiot alumnus Brian Charles Johnson grace the screen here and there. Fran Lebowitz even shows up.