“The Wolf of Wall Street” is the wildest and most full-throttle presentation to hit the big screen this year as acclaimed actor Leonardo DiCaprio and legendary filmmaker Martin Scorcese once again create a highly-anticipated and controversial film. This film is extremely aggressive, highly graphic, and at most times, over the top. But through all of the chaos, it is wildly entertaining and gives audiences a peek at a life that appears to be glamorous and exciting on the surface, yet presents a tidal wave of harm and destruction underneath.
Based on the book by the same name, “The Wolf of Wall Street” tells the true story of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), a New York stockbroker whose crooked banking, stock advising, and flashy lifestyle lands him on the radar of the federal government and makes quite an impact on the stock market in the 1990s. Starting out as a young, ambitious, wet sponge Belfort goes from a small position at a large stock firm to turning a few guys and a small office into an enormous, well-known, and profitable agency. Using a series of illegal and unethical practices, Belfort takes advantage of the everyday working man by convincing them to buy large on small stocks that the average trader knows will never get off the ground, thus yielding large commissions to the company and hardly any pay off for the customer. Once Belfort gets a taste of the fast and alluring life of money, girls, and drugs, he continues to increase his level of corruption by withholding information from the feds, investing in stocks using inside information, smuggling money to other countries and much more. But like anything that seems to good to be true, the consequences begin to catch up to Belfort and threaten to cost him everything he’s worked for.
Lavish parties, expensive houses, fast cars, large boats, and more money than you would even know what to do with, “The Wolf of Wall Street” at first glance appears to show how intoxicating and electrifying the life of a rich businessman can be, but the air quickly dissipates as it is clear that the path taken to get there is paved with greed, lies, corruption, and a plethora of drugs. The exceedingly beautiful women and large quantities of cash that are presented rival the amount of cheating husbands, sketchy deals, and unorthodox behavior that takes place. From a rating standpoint, this film barely avoided being categorized as NC-17, in large part due to the excessive drug use, full frontal nudity, mistreatment of various people, offensive or vulgar language, for starters.
Much of this film can be very shocking to the average person, but the intense scenes, explicit content, and several outstanding lead performances are what makes it great. DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, and others are absolute gold to watch. The seduction and exorbitant material possessions cast a spell on the audience as they do the cast, and the debaucherous-yet-down-right-good-time that the characters are having is more than contagious. The movie makes valuable use of character narration and amusing internal dialogue to let you know what they’re really thinking, as well as a series of cut scenes and Scorcese's patented music-filled video montages to play out a mix of the extravagant partying, foolish behavior, and bad decisions.
DiCaprio is at the top of his game, presenting a character that is a combination of his roles in “The Departed” and “The Great Gatsby” and gives a main performance that would normally rival just about anyone, if not for such an amazing and competitive year for movies. Jonah Hill is hilarious as the smart, risk-taking sidekick to Dicaprio’s character, and Matthew McConaughey, while only present for a short while, makes the most of his screen time. Coupled with performances from Kyle Chandler, Spike Jonze, Margot Robbie, Jon Favreau, Rob Reiner, Jean Dujardin, Jon Bernthal, and more, “The Wolf of Wall Street” is not short on fresh and established faces.
From a negative standpoint, the film is almost three hours long, which can be a bit much for some. To its credit, the film does utilize most of this time to display a loud and exhilarating presentation; it’s just a matter of whether you can sit through that much movie time. For as high-profile and elaborate as it is, I was surprised to find several cheap special effects and camera shots of obviously fake scenery, props, etc. This doesn’t necessarily bring down the film, since it does have fantasy likenesses to it, but I would have expected more from a Scorcese and DiCaprio production. There has been indifferent opinions on how well the adaption of the book is, and one of my biggest concerns is that for all of the time spent with these characters and the high level of risk/reward shown, there is never a deep sense of emotion, real consequence, or a reason to care about what happens to the characters.
I like to think of “The Wolf of Wall Street” as this year’s “Django: Unchained.” It’s as every bit offensive, shocking, and all around absurd at times, yet has enough spark and positive elements to make it popular. It’s the kind of film that will be equally or more talked about than others, yet will never win best picture because of the high level of graphic content. It’s the epitome of everything that’s wrong with our society: the extremes of drug use, casual sex, criminal and selfish behavior, and using other people to get what you want. The entire film is like a drawn out high. The first two-thirds are balls-to-the-walls comedy, dishonesty, and a soaring high, and the last part feels like a major comedown and hangover as the characters pick up the pieces and deal with the aftermath of their actions.
This movie is without a doubt full of testosterone, antagonizing behavior, and pure pleasure, and it will be one of the most talked about films of this year. All around, it’s fantastic. See it for yourself starting Christmas Day, but know that it is not for the faint of heart.
Rated 4.5-out-of-5 stars.
“The Wolf of Wall Street” is rated R for sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language throughout, and for some violence. Running time is 2 hours and 59 minutes.
Hayden Pittman is a special contributor to WFAA.com and a freelance film critic and entertainment blogger out of Dallas. More of his content can be found on YouPlusDallas.com and his author archive here. He is a film, TV, and sports enthusiast, and hopes to pursue a future in filmmaking and screenwriting. As an average, passionate film lover who rarely misses a film, his reviews are straightforward and his way with words will let you know in a simple way what he thinks. Don’t like what he has to say? Let him know at firstname.lastname@example.org.