The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenwriter: Terence Winter
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin, Joanna Lumley, Cristin Milioti
What is there to say about Martin Scorsese’s three-hour, instant classic The Wolf of Wall Street that hasn’t been said before? If you were young in 2013, you would understand this film as culture itself. From putting Margot Robbie on the map to introducing the song “Jordan Belfort” to every high school basement party in America, Wolf of Wall Street defined a generation of simultaneously wealth-obsessed and wealth-repulsed youth.
Scorsese succeeds at a have your cake and eat it too approach to satire. His sprawling biopic of financial criminal and multimillionaire stockbroker Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is both braggadocious and reflective. On the heels of the 2008 financial collapse and the subsequent Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011, the film examines America’s obsession with wealth – the good, the bad, and the drug-fueled. Belfort’s lifestyle enthrals us – the mega yachts, three-day parties, even the crime. The film approaches everything with a larger-than-life approach. The score is boisterous, we hear a foul-mouthed Belfort narrating his trials and tribulations with the feds, and everything is dialed up to the nines.
We do see the eventual fall of Belfort, but it’s as stylized as ever. In perhaps one of the most iconic scenes in modern film history, Belfort is confronted with the gravity of his financial crimes and the eventual ruin of his criminal empire. Just as this realization kicks in, so do the quaaludes that Belfort popped 90-minutes ago. Earlier in the film, Belfort brags about the many benefits of the retro drug but now he has entered a new phase of intoxication: the “cerebral palsy phase.” Belfort drags himself like an infant toward his white Ferrari. We see him crumble to the ground; gone is the the fast lifestyle of a degenerate and in his place lays a helpless man at the mercy of his own hubris.
The scene is both funny and ironically sobering. We finally watch Belfort answer for his crimes in the most physical sense. Scorsese plays perfectly with tension and humor. We hold our breathe, wondering if Belfort will make it to his Ferrari or drive off into the sunset. We don’t root for him, but we have no choice but to be at the mercy of his storytelling.
The script functions as a mere skeleton for this ambitious film, making it an absolute treat for any viewer. Leonardo DiCaprio delivers one of his career-best performances. He skilfully adlibs his way through Belfort’s life, adding many a “fuck” or New York slang to make the character feel that much more real. On his first day at a brokerage firm on Wall Street, Belfort goes to lunch with his magnanimous boss, Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey). Like everything they do, the scene is filled with popping pills and downing champagne in the middle of the day. At one point, the two even break into full song in the middle of the restaurant. The best part of the scene? It’s almost all improvised. McConaughey and DiCaprio have an undeniable chemistry that makes the scene impossible to look away from. They play up on each other’s ludicrous energy and take turns trying to outdo the other’s performance, all for the benefit of the viewer.
More than ten years after its release, The Wolf of Wall Street holds up as an incredibly fun watch and a decisive voice on class in the United States. It underscores how the people at the top will exploit the system until the bitter end and those at the bottom will be forced to pay the price. Scorsese is a master of humor and pacing, making the three-hour run feel like nothing.
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