The Wolf of Wall Street

The-Wolf-of-Wall-Street

If you’re hungry for a healthy dose of coke-fueled fun, a romp through late-eighties, early nineties stock fraud, love irreverent and silly sex, nudity (did I mention coke?), then you definitely won’t want to miss The Wolf of Wall Street.

The 3-hour Martin Scorsese picture follows the rise and fall of Wall Street fraudster Jordan Belfort, who published an autobiography that we see adapted here. It plays like a coked-up and more modern Goodfellas: a charming, likable anti-hero that you can’t help but root for goes from rags to riches and back again. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Belfort, Jonah Hill as his business partner Donnie Azoff, and Margot Robbie as his stupid-hot wife. The direction is sharp, smart, and paced very well, with a few notable exceptions. There are gobs of sex, nudity, and plenty of profanity, but none of the naughtiness comes off as gratuitous.

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I can’t be the only one who checks the IMDB Parent’s Guide in hopes that there will be a promise of some good-ol’ nastiness in a coming movie. When I did this for The Wolf of Wall Street, I was promised near ‘softcore-porn’ that was prurient enough to cause some moviegoers to storm out. I couldn’t agree less. The sex and nudity was appropriate, timely, and… well, sexy.

Clearly Martin Scorsese has clearly found his muse in Leonardo DiCaprio, who, In The Wolf of Wall Street, plays Jay Gatsby… (Wait, I mean Jordan Belfort) in his usual, charming, beautiful man way. He’s very good. He does everything right, and clearly Scorsese is letting him off the leash a bit more in each movie.

DiCaprio’s chops come through in some longer scenes that depict ranting pep talks from Belfort addressing his ruthless broker minions. He does it right, and turns in a terrific, energetic performance. My problem is I never see him disappear completely. When I think of some actors and how I completely forget I’m watching them and not their character, greats like Gary Oldman and Jack Nicholson, it makes me wonder why Leo can never seem to get off the ground in the same way.

I remember when Michael Jordan decided to play baseball; someone said he’d be the best guy on your softball team but the worst player on the Sox. It’s like that with DiCaprio, who’s always good but never great. He’s good looking, has energy, understands his characters, but just doesn’t dissolve into them the way a true master does. He can pretend to be angry, pretend to be retarded, pretend to be sad, excited, irrational, whatever. But so can every kid in drama 2 at your local high school. I like Leo, and I keep trying, trying hard, to see the nuances that real actors pull off in facial expressions, things they communicate with just their eyes, with tone and inflection, and I just don’t.

This is evident watching DiCaprio sitting stupefied opposite Matthew Mcconaughey, who is no favorite of mine by any means, but undeniable as an actor. It reminded me of the courtroom scenes in A Few Good Men: a really good actor playing opposite a true master at his craft. Like Tom Cruise pretending to be angry, DiCaprio is good. Really, really good, even.  But I heard grumblings among my fellow audience members in the theatre as I left, some of them with the word “Oscar.”… It’s there I have to draw the line and say, “eeeasy, tiger.”

One particular scene that is a definite miss was one in which a Quaalude-sodden Belfort has lost nearly all motor control. He has to drag his uncooperative body about thirty yards to his Lamborghini, get in, and get home to avert a crisis. Dicaprio does a fine job (look, Marty, I’m pretending to be almost paralyzed!) dragging himself and pretending to be grossly intoxicated, but the scene goes on so long that the audience starts to chuckle. I mean, it’s funny! What follows is a scene with Belfort trying to kill his cohort played by Hill, who chokes, literally, and ends up being saved by his attacker instead. It’s an intense, physical, and probably very difficult scene to shoot, but the intensity is muted by DiCaprio’s accidental hilarity. It’s like Charlie Chaplin doing homicidal rage in a stupor, and didn’t work.

If it seems like I’m hung up on DiCaprio’s acting, you’re right. While this movie has other great qualities that float it along, like a terrific, witty script (Adapted from Belfort’s autobiography by Boardwalk Empire genius Terence Winter) and spot-on editing and photography, it is very much about Leonardo’s delivery. Scorsese makes it all about him, and it’s the only weak point in an otherwise very well done film.

Other great performances are turned in by Kyle Chandler (the dad/coach from the Friday night Lights TV series) and impossibly beautiful Australian actor Margot Robbie, who does a perfect trashy Jersey/New-Yawkah/Brooklyn thing. The real brilliance In The Wolf of Wall Street, however, and probably by accident, shines through in Jonah Hill. Some of the partially-improvised scenes are helped along with a dose of his reliable and smart comedic timing and genuine funniness. But Hill actually plays a character, and not just himself, for the first time in his career here. He may finally start to be taken seriously after this one.

If the director had been slightly less awestruck by his lead actor, he might have been willing to cut the length of some of his scenes. This may have trimmed The Wolf of Wall Street down from its needless 3-hours (remember *yawn* Gatsby?) to something packaged as well as a masterpiece like Goodfellas. That movie showed us he can absolutely nail an adapted biopic, especially one with a perfect anti-hero main character surrounded by an insanely talented supporting cast. He almost did it again here, but I think DiCaprio’s pretty blue eyes just got the better of him. It’s a definite must-see, and what Scorsese does perfectly is leaving the audience to decide for themselves whether Belfort’s ruthlessness and greed is something they admire or despise. The Wolf of Wall Street will be talked about for a while, and I would not be surprised by Oscar nods for Winter (screenplay) and Scorsese (director).

The Wolf of Wall Street is entertaining to the last minute. Hilariously funny throughout. One of Leonardo DiCaprio’s best performances with a boost from Jonah Hill. – Jake Grunwald

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