Directed by: Martin Scorsese || Produced by: Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Riza Aziz, Joey McFarland, Emma Tillinger Koskoff
Screenplay by: Terence Winter || Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Jon Bernthal, Jean Dujardin, Kyle Chandler, Matthew McConaughey, Rob Reiner
Music by: Robbie Robertson, Howard Shore || Cinematography: Rodrigo Prieto || Editing by: Thelma Schoonmaker || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 179 minutes
Do you like movies that are both fun and good? I do as well. No one ever likes to trade quantity for quality, or vice versa, if they can help it. The arts are no exception to this rule.
Movies like The Avengers (2012), Aliens (1986), 3 Idiots (2009) and Devdas (2002) entertain without ever crossing into shallow, over-commercialized dumbness. They are also well constructed feature-films that have artistic merit without being dense, depressing, or difficult to sit through. Martin Scorsese’s latest film (and his longest, by one minute), The Wolf of Wall Street, starring his latest favorite lead man, Leonardo DiCaprio, is a film that fits that description to a “T.” It is the polar opposite of a movie like Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, released this same year. Instead of being incredibly depressing and uncomfortable viewing, The Wolf of Wall Street is an artistically intelligent and hilariously enjoyable movie. The Wolf is smart, witty, funny, and extremely entertaining. It is also the best movie of 2013.
With this latest DiCaprio criminal adventure, Scorsese proves yet again that not only is he still one of the top directors in the world, he is the only remaining relevant member of the ’70’s American New Wave generation. Compared to his peers George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, William Friedkin, and even Steven Spielberg, Scorsese remains the only member of the American New Wave to consistently produce high-quality pictures in recent years. The man is as good a filmmaker now as he ever was.
While parts of the films’ ensemble performances occasionally wander into needless excess, the film is simultaneously a brilliant celebration and condemnation of just that: Excess. The Wolf is all about more, more, and more. In Scorsese and DiCaprio’s eyes, sometimes you can have too much of a good thing, and things can still be amazingly good.
People have and will continue to knock the film for supposedly encouraging the many irresponsible (and sometimes despicable) behavior exhibited by the characters in the story. Those who do so are in the same league as people who constantly bash movies for not being for being “historically accurate” or “balanced” enough, in that they are all missing the point. The Wolf is no more siding with its characters’ greedy, deplorable behavior than 12 Years was advocating slavery is a good thing. What Wall Street has, unlike 12 Years, is a sense of humor and a willingness to have a good time telling a good story.
Terence Winter’s expert adaptation of Jordan Belfort’s book of the same name sets the film up for success right from the start. Not only does the narrative maintain its hyperactive, rambunctious style for the entirety of its three hour running time, it manages to do so without ever feeling either boring or out of control, despite however many boobs, cocaine, or utterances of the word “fuck” there are in any one particular scene.
Most of the characters, including DiCaprio’s smooth-talking, white-collar criminal protagonist and Jonah Hill’s goofy smartass sidekick, are totally unlikable for the vast majority of the narrative; yet, Winter writes them in a way that you are fascinated by their actions and the story’s outcome. Much like Christian Bale’s over-the-top serial killer satirist, Patrick Bateman, in American Psycho (2000), the main characters in The Wolf are not exactly people we can relate to or would like to hang out with, or even necessarily root for, but we are still invested in them because their persona’s and what they represent are so captivating and entertaining. People who are offended by Scorsese’s latest movie are misunderstanding the intentions of the film due to no one’s fault but their own.
Scorsese brings Winter’s writing to life with boundless energy. The movie feels right out of the 1970’s with its unconventional cinematography and vivid attention to cinematic detail. The nonconforming characters are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of Scorsese’s unapologetic New Wave-direction. Fun editing sequences like Lamborghini’s changing color on the fly, false flashbacks, and characters frequently addressing the camera add endless flavor to the film’s overall look and feel. The director takes the overflowing sex, lies, drugs, and outrageous behavior and encapsulates them in an irresistible cinematic structure. In any other director’s hands, The Wolf would have been an uncontrollable, over-the-top mess, but Scorsese keeps all the cinematic excess under just enough control to make the movie every bit as much of a wild ride as Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity (2013). Better, actually.
The combination of Winter’s great script and Scorsese’s even better direction means The Wolf is chock full of memorable scenes. Despite how many orgy-filled, drug-saturated parties there are in the story, each one manages to top the last in terms of sheer spectacle and quotability. The way Scorsese shoots all the mayhem makes every white-collar crime montage, drunken ramble, and coke-covered festivity feel fresh and coherent despite how chaotic and exhausting everything is. It helps that Winter paces the crazy action well, keeping the story from becoming too relentless while at the same time barely giving his audience any time to rest. This all comes to a head in what may be the ballsiest scene of the year, in which DiCaprio and Hill’s characters binge on hyper-potent Quaalades to hilarious effect. The sequence has to be seen to be believed.
The performances by the ensemble cast are outstanding, despite DiCaprio’s continuing over-reliance on shouting to demonstrate his character’s energy. A hilarious Jonah Hill, a smokingly sexy Margot Robbie, a smartass Jean Dujardin, and a meatheaded Jon Bernthal fill out a spectacular supporting cast that backs Belfort’s lead character. Even a straight-laced Kyle Chandler manages some excellent chemistry with DiCaprio in what is perhaps the funniest (and most subtle) scene in the whole movie.
I don’t see how you could not like The Wolf of Wall Street. I also don’t understand how anyone could not recognize the film’s artistic brilliance in the face of so much over-the-top craziness. The movie is the best of both worlds, being both a hilariously entertaining Hollywood story of fame and success, as well as a fiercely intelligent, satirical, and complex tale of deplorable human behavior. If you walk out of this film wondering why all movies can’t be this satisfying and intelligent, I can only answer with one sentence: There is only one Martin Scorsese. Let’s give it up for him now.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Scorsese is somehow able to rein all the cinematic excess of his actors and Winter’s script to create a satisfying comedic adventure. This director demonstrates how fluent he is at detailing the lives of wild, unforgettable people in unforgettable situations. The Wolf of Wall Street features a masterful lineup of New Wave-style cinematography, from self-conscious voiceovers to omniscient tracking shots to characters breaking the fourth wall to freeze frames and more, more, more! I love it!
— However… some of DiCaprio’s shouting grows repetitive. Some of the improvised conversations run on too long.
—> HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
?I feel sorry for people in Malaysia, Nepal, Kenya, Singapore, and India, because you guys are missing out on a damned fine film.