One thing that you can always expect from a Martin Scorsese movie is quality in the filmmaking. His latest undertaking (and his longest running picture to date) is “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013), based on the memoirs by the movie’s crooked Wall Street con-man, Jordan Belfort, enthusiastically played by Leonardo DiCaprio. The film begins while Belfort is still a young man learning the ropes of the business from his mentor, Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey). Hanna encourages Jordan to change his lifestyle to include large amounts of drugs and sex to relax from the stressful conditions that fill his days. After “Black Monday” Jordan finds himself without a job and is encouraged by his wife (Cristin Milioti) to join a low-level, penny-stock company that with high commissions promises to be profitable.
Jordan begins making large amounts of money very quickly, and after meeting the odd yet energetic Donnie (Jonah Hill), the two open their own film, Stratton Oakmont, employing a handful of drug-dealing friends who know how to sell…anything. Jordan comes up with the crazy idea that if he trains people properly, he can teach anyone and everyone how to sell large amounts of penny stocks to the richest 1% of the country, all while making obscene amounts of money for himself. And that is exactly what he does. Of course he also manages to consume more drugs than you would believe possible, have sex with more women than you would think possible, and come up with the most insanely ludicrous ways to entertain himself and his friends that one could imagine.
Along his travels Jordan gets himself a new wife (Margot Robbie), a crooked Swiss Banker (Jean Dujardin), a mansion that looks as big as Disneyland, a large, extravagant yacht, oh yes, and a secret admirer in FBI agent Denham (Kyle Chandler), who along with the SEC, would love to put an end to Jordan and his company.
Let me start off my thoughts by stating, just to have it on the record, I love Martin Scorsese and his films. I truly believe he is not only one of the best filmmakers of his time, but of all time, and each year I eagerly and anxiously anticipate his next film. However, “The Wolf of Wall Street” is not the type of picture that attracts me as a viewer. At one point in the film, Jordan makes a speech to his various minions about the different types of people in the world and how his office doesn’t have room for a “certain type”, and the truth of the matter is that I fall into that certain type. Jordan Belfort would laugh at me if we were to meet…and I would laugh at him. His life doesn’t interest me in the slightest, and as many have called this movie obscene, distasteful, and that it glorifies the ridiculous events of Jordan’s life, I have to say that I disagree and found nothing glamorous about the story, the characters, or any of their ways of life. I only felt sorry for their unhappiness.
I did, however, find myself blown away by my interest in the way this film was put together. I believe that if you handed Scorsese a horrible story or script and turned his genius loose, you would inevitably wind up getting a finished product with technical achievements galore. It still might not be a great story, but he will tell that story better than anyone. I have often found this same thing to be true in watching his documentaries. Even if they are about a subject that doesn’t particularly interest you, because of the skill that he embodies as a filmmaker and the way he shares his own passions, everything he brings to the cinematic world finds a way to be interesting to watch.
And then there is Leonardo DiCaprio, as well as a complete cast of supporting players turning each scene into something unique, even if just in an obscenely hard-to-forget way. Everybody appearing here is in top form, particularly Jonah Hill and Leonardo DiCaprio. The difference is that Jonah Hill is great in a funny, easy-to-laugh-at-him kind of way. We (as regular movie watchers) are used to laughing at him, and he finds a way to outdo himself once again- even if it’s just his teeth. DiCaprio, on the other hand, has consistently been improving over the years, and is now capable of almost anything. A few years ago a role such as Jordan Belfort would have been too much for him to undertake. He wouldn’t have been able to fully capture the combination of powerful money-hungry maniac, with the laughable, farcical antics of this character. I have always been impressed by his abilities, but never would have thought that a role this preposterous would be the one that grabbed my attention so drastically.
As a film that tells a story (good or bad), “The Wolf of Wall Street” has everything it takes to teach, educate, and grab us by our throats and force its audience to pay attention. When it ends, however, one can’t help but feel dirty and polluted. Technically the film is a masterpiece, but personally I am just glad that it’s over.