-- Oscar Wilde
“America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.”
-- Oscar Wilde
Based on the true story of a drug-addled con artist passing himself off as a Wall Street broker in the late 80s and early 90s, The Wolf of Wall Street marks the 5th collaboration between Scorsese and DiCaprio, and if this movie is any indication of which way that partnership is trending, they should never make a movie without the other again. Weighing in at just 3 hours, my only complaint is actually that I didn't get a little more movie in some spots. Brilliantly acted, and masterfully directed, Wolf is that rare masterpiece that walks the fine line between too much appeal and too much disdain for a debauched protagonist. You are conscious throughout the entire movie that he is a horrible person, but with DiCaprio's charisma, and subtle directing choices, like having DiCaprio share the frame with an American flag when he is at his slimiest (he's just the epitome of the American dream!), you find yourself rooting for him as well.
The movie begins with Belfort being hired at a respected Wall Street firm, and benefitting from the hedonistic tutelage of Mark Hanna (played charismatically, albeit briefly, by Matthew McConaughey). Just as he gets his license to be a full-fledged broker, however, Black Monday hits and within a month, his prestigious firm is shut down. His newfound unemployment forces Belfort to think outside the box, and he applies his high-pressure sales techniques to penny stocks before setting his sights much higher. He founds the firm Stratton Oakmont (choosing the name for its prestigious sound) with several of his friends who can learn his selling techniques, and from there the ball is rolling. The richer he gets, the more illegalities he becomes involved in, the more depraved his appetites become, and the more attention he attracts from government agencies. From early on in this movie, the clock is ticking.
To watch DiCaprio play this role is to see Alec Baldwin from Glengarry Glen Ross expanded into a full role. He slips into vulgar and insulting, yet animated and rousing speeches with an ease that shows why a salesman like Belfort would've been hard to say "no" to. I can't imagine how DiCaprio doesn't win Best Actor for the role, his performance is that good. Along the same lines, Margot Robbie, who I will admit to knowing nothing about prior to this film, is a force as his wife Naomi Lapaglia and has to be shortlisted for Best Supporting Actress. She plays the character living the dream of Scarlett Johansson's in Don Jon, but with more depth than Johannson's caricature. Jonah Hill, seems to be carving out quite a career for himself as second banana to a more bankable star. After taking a similar turn in Moneyball, Hill embraces the absurdity of his character and certainly doesn't shrink from the challenge of sharing the screen with DiCaprio at his peak.
At 71, it would be fair to wonder how long Scorsese can keep churning out these memorable directorial turns, but in Wolf, he proves he can still learn new tricks. The diner scene where Belfort is recruiting his friends to be his brokers is eerily Tarantino-esque, and Scorsese's command over the entire movie shows filmmaking has hardly passed him by. When I alluded to needing more movie earlier, two parts stand out: when Belfort decides to reform, we skip ahead by several years to a sober, honest-working man who barely the resembles the one we spent 2.5 hours getting to know. I could've used another 15 minutes showing me that transformation. And without spoiling the ending (where Scorsese piles in the most artistic license he takes all movie), I can only tell you that another 10 seconds there would've been perfect. When a movie weighs in at 2 hours and 59 minutes, however, and your only complaint is that it wasn't longer, you've got an amazing movie on your hands.
Another amazing pairing of DiCaprio and Scorsese, that even at 3 hours in length, could've used a bit more