‘The Wolf of Wall Street’: All hail the penny stock king
Will Neal | Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Every once in a while, a movie will come along that will grab hold of your perception of society’s mechanics and challenge the way you look at the world and humanity as a whole. Martin Scorsese’s latest directorial entry, “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which exaggeratedly reenacts the rise and fall of real-life stockbroker legend Jordan Belfort, is certainly not one of these films. Instead, it’s one of the most entertaining and darkly comedic films of the year.
Based on his autobiography, the once-innocent Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) becomes consumed by the fast-paced, cocaine-fueled, high-reward world of stock trades and stock trading apps, beginning his path to becoming a legend … a despicable legend. Belfort was just a simple, middle-class kid hoping to make a decent living for him and his wife, but his first day on Wall Street opened his eyes to prospects far beyond his original desires. After an informative discussion with his mentor (Matthew McConaughey), a market crash and the collapse of his firm, Belfort takes his newfound skills from Wall Street to Long Island. There, he learns of the huge profit that comes with selling penny stocks to unsuspecting citizens, from which he can make an astounding 50% commission. To put it simply, he makes a ton of money selling shares of awful companies to suckers.
Joined by newfound partner Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), Belfort pursues the penny stock trade and assembles a team of old drug-dealing friends and wannabe brokers for a new firm that will master the art of selling crap for profit. In a short time, the firm expands at an incredible rate, gaining an enormous amount of profit and recognition for Belfort and his employees. Soon, the overwhelming success leads the company into a hedonistic spiral of in-office drug use and ramped sex. From narcotics and prostitutes to orgies and midget tossing, anything goes behind the doors of Stratton Oakmont. Belfort becomes a pleasure addict and will go to great lengths to ensure that his needs as satisfied, even at the cost of his wife, livelihood and, eventually, freedom. When Belfort does fall at the hands of the FBI (“Was any of this legal? Absolutely not.”), he makes sure to live up to his reputation and go out in a blaze of glory (and poor decisions).
Told through the words of Jordan Belfort, this story bares a striking narrative resemblance to Scorsese’s earlier masterpiece to appropriately be considered the white collar “Goodfellas.” The film is easily Scorsese’s funniest film to date, with consistent moments of laugh-out-loud humor. It’s also incredibly vulgar, profane and absurd in nearly every scene. Basically, it’s easy to see why this film barely escaped an NC-17 rating. I cannot stress this enough when I say this is not a family movie, so try to avoid bringing your parents along. It’s three hours (that is not an exaggeration) of utter chaos, but good God is it fun to watch.
Beyond its exceptional direction and pure entertainment value, I urge you to watch this film to see its cast members at the top of their game. Jonah Hill is hilariously splendid as Donnie Azoff, and shares a wonderful brotherly on-screen chemistry with Dicaprio’s Belfort. Fellow broker bros played by Jon Bernthal (“Walking Dead”), Ethan Suplee, P.J. Byrne and Kenneth Choi, all have their stand out and outright hysterical moments throughout the film, making “Wolf of Wall Street” a true career booster for the supporting cast. The real surprise comes from the performance of 23 year-old newcomer Margot Robbie playing Belfort’s second wife, Naomi. As stunning as she is, her performance elevates her far above the status of eye-candy and shows off both her comedic and dramatic talent. Matthew McConaughey’s role, while significantly short in on-screen time, is incredibly fun as the coked-up executive of Belfort’s original Wall Street firm.
While the supporting cast is certainly outstanding, this is by all means DiCaprio’s film. His performance is both electric and outrageous, as does a fantastic job balancing the flaws and good-hearted qualities of his character. The film acts as an open door for DiCaprio to show his comedic chops, and he delivers the humor consistently. This is his most impressive role to date and his best shot at finally taking home the gold at the Oscars.
“The Wolf of Wall Street” shows that even at the age of 72, Scorsese can still compete with any filmmaker of today. Even at its excessive run time, there is never a dull moment as the director brings out the best of this story and its actors. The film may be consistently raunchy and over the top, but the lifestyle serves as a cautionary tale rather than a glamorized perspective. “The Wolf of Wall Street” is a true competitor among 2013’s best, and shows just how much talent Scorsese and DiCaprio can bring to the screen.