The phrase “money talks, bulls**t walks” rings loud and true to The Wolf of Wall Street, the newest film by Martin Scorsese. Raw and juicy, it’s the most action packed and riveting movie Scorsese has made in the last twenty years. Based on the biography by Jordon Belfort, a New York stockbroker who committed fraud and made millions for himself and his buddies, The Wolf of Wall Street is like a white-collar version of GoodFellas. Scorsese takes the sex, drugs, and violence aspect of his 1990 masterpiece and employs it for Wolf, which shows the rise and fall of capitalist greed in the 80s and 90s.
Belfort, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, started with modest beginnings. He was born into a Midwest middle class family raised by accountant parents. But Belfort, much like Ray Liotta’s protagonist in GoodFellas, had different plans than to follow his paternal legacy: he wanted to become rich and went to Wall Street to satisfy his greedy ambitions. After some counseling from stockbroker Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), Belfort starts his own investment firm in Long Island after the market crash of ’87. His plan was simple: Belfort tricked the rich into buying penny stocks by lying about their value, a practice known as “pump and dump.” By doing so, Belfort would receive a 50% commission from his deals, much more than the 1% deal given for regular stocks. His plan succeeds and soon, after christening his organization Stratton Oakmont, heads into New York to fulfill his vast dreams of wealth.
But Belfort’s desire of money was only matched for his love of drugs and sex. Describing himself to inject enough cocaine to knock out all of New York, Belfort partied hard throughout his corporate life, hiring so many prostitutes that he has to continuously inject himself with penicillin. He divorces his old wife in favor off a blonde bombshell played by Margot Robbie, buys a huge mansion and yacht, and scams all of New York to rake in tons of cash for Stratton Oakmont. His corporate buddies like Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), originally a small town man married to his cousin, follow the same path of avarice. But Belfort’s triumphs soon catches eye of the government as FBI Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) attempts to destroy Oakmont’s mighty empire over Wall Street.
The screenplay, written by Sopranos scribe and Boardwalk Empire creator Terence Winter, perfectly suits Scorsese’s direction. Much like GoodFellas and Casino, The Wolf of Wall Street is exciting and terrifying at the same time. With the rapid pacing of Thelma Schoonmkaer’s editing board, Wall Street seems not too different from the mafia itself, a point even more relevant today after the financial crash of 2008 and the Occupy Wall Street protests. Coincidently starting in 1987, the year Oliver Stone’s Wall Street came out, Wolf revels and mocks the excessiveness of the 1%, making it more true to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby than the recent film adaptation. Belfort is a misguided soul, believing he has the right to all of the world and its treasures. His crimes lead to a three-year prison time, but he never conveys regret or sting at his crimes, with the exception of turning his loyal companions in. To put it simply, Belfort is a monster who wishes only for more with an appetite as big as Tony Montana’s. Scorsese revels in Belfort’s frivolous life-style, combining comic pieces and over-the-top dialogue to emphasize greed at its greediest. DiCaprio has never been in better form than as Belfort, perfectly playing the venomous and lustrous aspirations of the stockbroker; because of Leo, the audience can believe that Belfort is a man who wanted to be God.
However, The Wolf of Wall Street does have a few bumps. While not a second of the picture is boring, the film feels a bit overlong and could use some trimming to cut out the fat of its three-hour screen time. Paramount released the movie quickly in order to compete in this year’s award seasons and if some more time were allowed, The Wolf of Wall Street might run a bit more smoother. But despite its imperfections, The Wolf of Wall Street is a near-masterpiece and the most entertaining picture of the year and another rousing success for one of cinema’s strongest directors.
Editor’s Note: Scorsese had to make certain cuts to secure an R-rating and I’m surprised the MPAA went through with the final version without giving it the infamous NC-17 marking. There is plenty of swearing, violence, and graphic sex, and while it did not bother me, I would recommend this picture for mature audiences only.