A Soulless Rake: The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Director: Martin Scorcese

Writer:Terrence Winter (screenplay), Jordan Belfort (book)

Stars: Leonardo Dicaprio, Margot Robbie, Jonah Hill

As I left the theater having just seen The Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorcese’s newest meditation on excess, I felt as if I was in a daze.  Was that really three hours?  The amount of drug abuse, nudity, and near-constant profanity in the film corresponded to make its lengthy run time seem to whip by.  In the story of Jordan Belfort, real life stockbroker, drug addict, convicted felon, and motivational speaker, Scorcese has found yet another historical example of the symbiotic relationship that exists between wealth and moral turpitude.  Like Goodfellas and Casino before it, Wolf shows the way that the quest for money can cloud your judgement, desensitize you to suffering (particularly your own), and possibly end in no great lesson.

I say possibly because whether or not Dicaprio’s Jordan Belfort truly learns anything in the film is a personal judgement that each viewer should reach on their own after they view it, which I would recommend.  I consider The Wolf of Wall Street to be Scorcese’s most enjoyable work since the first half of Gangs of New York.  During its first two hours, I had an ear-to-ear grin that did not leave my face.  The credit for this, beyond Scorcese’s as-ever obvious mastery of the form, goes to Dicaprio’s brash performance, which I consider the greatest of his career.

Personally I’ve never loved that Dicaprio has become Scorcese’s obvious muse.  Though I liked him in Shutter Island and The Aviator, I thought he was too soft for The Departed or the aforementioned Gangs.  Maybe it’s my own prejudice against his obvious beauty, but I’ve never bought him as the badass.  In The Wolf of Wall Street however, I finally see what Dicaprio really has above other actors, a twinkle in his eye.  Dicaprio, plays Belfort as a sort of drunken pixie; charmed, reckless and egotistical, he attracted and repelled me in the same time. Dicaprio’s Belfort, after a lunch with capitalist zen master Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey, who steals the show in the film’s first half hour, never to be seen again), sets his sights on unfathomable riches, and will not be dissuaded.

Beyond McConaughey, of course, Dicaprio is flanked by outstanding supporting performances.  Jonah Hill affects a heavy northeastern accent (I couldn’t place it) and a disregard for decorum that rivals Dicaprio’s.  Rob Reiner is charismatic as Belfort’s anger-addicted father, and Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights) is a believable morally stalwart FBI agent.  But for me, the best supporting performance is Margot Robbie’s turn as the deceptively intelligent sexpot Naomi Lapaglia.  Like Lorraine Bracco’s Karen Hill in Goodfellas, she’s drawn into a morally and legally untenable situation by the charismatic male lead, but keeps her backbone and edge, making him pay (as best she can) for his mistakes.

The Wolf of Wall Street, while overstuffed and exhausting, such that it may leave an audience either gasping for air or looking for a pillow, is a fitting capper to Scorcese’s Triptych of decadence (Goodfellas and Casino were the first two).  Though I can’t speak to its specific message without giving away the film’s finale, I will say that I found the film sobering, and that Belfort did not win my favor.  After the first hour of the film, Belfort’s first wife is never seen or heard from again, and the two kids he claimed to have with her are never seen at all.  In the end, due to this and many other elements of the story, Scorcese has shown me that a lust for money and power can rob you of your reason, your freedom, and your soul.

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A Soulless Rake: The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

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