I’ll start off by saying that I went into this movie with great bias and high expectations. I’ll unapologetically admit that I’m a huge Leonardo DiCaprio fan and a huge Martin Scorsese fan. I think part of the Leo excitement stems from the fact that he’s yet to win an Oscar, even though he’s incredibly deserving. (He didn’t get it for Blood Diamond? Seriously? Do you know how hard it is to pull off a South African accent that well?) I can unequivocally say that this movie met and exceeded my expectations.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort, a Wall Street broker who becomes wildly successful– albeit by bending the rules at times (okay, all the time. Highly illegal stuff). He’s joined by Jonah Hill as his right hand man, Donnie Azoff. Other notable performances include Margot Robbie as Jordan’s (second) wife, Rob Reiner as his father, and Kyle Chandler as an FBI agent attempting to bring the Belfort empire to its knees. For any How I Met Your Mother fans out there, Christin Milioti (the mother) also makes a sizeable appearance as Jordan’s first wife. Jon Favreau, Matthew McConaughey, and Jean Dujardin are also well known names that appear in this film. Even the Arby’s guy, Bo Dietl, makes an appearance (he’s actually a licensed private investigator, not just a fast food spokesperson, for what it’s worth). And of course, no movie based on true events would be complete without a real life person from the story– the real Jordan Belfort makes a cameo appearance at the end of the film.
I did have some reservations going in– I try to familiarize myself with source material before seeing the movie it’s based on. I started reading The Wolf of Wall Street book, and that wasn’t as good as I was expecting it to be. It was rather sensational, and the author’s voice and tone were rather tiresome at times. However, this managed to translate very well onto the screen.
I’ll start by breaking down the things that I liked the most. The performances were top notch. I think Leo would be a shoo-in for a Best Actor Oscar any other year, but he faces stiff competition from Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club. I think the fact that Leo’s long overdue may ultimately swing it his way, but that remains to be seen. Through the first half of the movie the performance was acceptable, but not exemplary. It was Leo playing a character without much else too it. However, there’s a particular speech in the film revolving around the sale of a highly coveted stock. As Jordan speaks to his employees about the importance of selling this stock, I couldn’t help but be moved. I made plans to transcribe the speech to a piece of paper and hang it above my desk, for motivation and what not. From there, Leo starts showing a broader range, from irate husband to a guy who’s taken one too many Quaaludes. Jonah Hill also provides a nomination-worthy supporting role. It’s been fun to see him grow up from the chunky kid in Superbad to the performer he is now, and this is another high point on his résumé. Although the performances are completely different, it kind of reminded me of his role in Moneyball; in that he paired harmoniously with Brad Pitt, and in here he does the same with Leo. I was also particularly impressed with Rob Reiner and Matthew McConaughey. Reiner is his usual hilarious old man self, and McConaughey’s brief appearance was reminiscent of Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross. Margot Robbie and Kyle Chandler also delivered great performances, but they were definitely outshined by some of the other cast members noted.
The cinematography and editing in this film go hand in hand, and they were bar-none some of the best moments in the film. Scorsese has had some timeless shots in his career (the one-take club scene in Goodfellas, anyone? Pretty much all of Raging Bull?), but some of the shots in this film were much more experimental and different from what we’re used to seeing from Marty. I’m not crazy about using this term, but they were very Tarrantino-esque. Lots of slow-mos, quick cuts, and close ups that heightened the experience of the film. I would be appalled if the film doesn’t get Oscar nominations in these two categories.
The screenplay was rather well written as well. Jordan Belfort narrates the film at times, and it hops between describing what happened in the past, commenting on later events, and flat out addressing the audience. It was rather entertaining and worked pretty well, and this was a clear example of staying true to the source material.
I wouldn’t add The Wolf of Wall Street to Matin Scorcese’s canon of finest films, but it was definitely solid and enjoyable. It’s no Goodfellas, Raging Bull, or Taxi Driver, but it’s definitely quality work. Here’s hoping that this is the drop of rain in Leo’s Oscar drought.