From howling wolf to fat dog, overblown story feels cumbersome
By Tim Pompey 01/09/2014
The Wolf of Wall Street
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie
Rated for sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language throughout, and violence.
If there really is such a thing as too much good stuff, The Wolf of Wall Street is a prime example. True story. Good acting. Some great direction. But after three solid hours of sex, drugs and swindling, by the end you’re feeling like you’ve taken one roller coaster ride too many and would just like to get off and go home.
Based on a true story, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a young man from the Bronx in the late 1980s who wants to be a stock broker. Unfortunately, his career gets sideswiped by Black Monday, the infamous stock market crash in October 1987.
Looking for work, he stumbles on a company that sells penny stocks — common shares of small public companies that trade at low prices per share. While they’re sold under questionable business practices, the commission is high and the sales potential is unlimited.
Belfort makes a fortune selling these stocks and eventually goes on to found his own company: Stratton Oakmont. Along the way, shoe maven Steve Madden becomes his client and Forbes Magazine dubs him “the Wolf of Wall Street.”
Belfort lives excessively, consuming drugs, cavorting with prostitutes (despite the fact he’s married), buying houses, helicopters and yachts and serving as coach and mentor to his growing horde of swindlers. Eventually, the FBI indicts him for securities fraud and money laundering, and after cooperating with the investigation, he serves 22 months in prison.
Scorsese has a knack for making hard-bitten characters interesting. From Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver to Bill “The Butcher” Cutting in Gangs of New York and Jack Nicholson in The Departed, his exploration of vicious human behavior is usually sharp and chilling.
But Belfort is different. Scorsese treats him as the Alfie of Wall Street — sad, demented, but amusing. This despite the remorseless pirate’s mentality that tore apart his family and ruined his investors. But the crucial question remains: How truly interesting is Jordan Belfort? And the unfortunate answer is, not very.
Despite Scorsese’s best efforts, this story doesn’t seem to add up to much. Unlike Goodfellas, in which the pathos of the film was the connection and the dichotomy between friend, family and gangster, here the picture of Belfort and his crew is one-sided, more beast than human, driven solely to feed their appetites. It’s like watching a documentary about hyenas, except these predators wear suits, walk on two legs and feed on their clients.
This is not to say that The Wolf of Wall Street doesn’t have some excellent performances. There are moments when DiCaprio seems to swallow Belfort whole and bellow him back. Jonah Hill as Donnie Azoff, his second in command, rivals him as his blowhard equal. And Margot Robbie as Naomi, Belfort’s second wife, sizzles as the blond bombshell with the wicked legs and a samurai sword for a tongue.
Aside from their carnality, characters do have their moments. Sometimes they’re amusing. Sometimes they’re shocking. But mostly it’s just overkill. The problem, I think, is the excess in the movie itself: the long speeches, the continuous partying, the repetitious behavior patterns. In short, there’s little surprise here.
All due respect to Scorsese, it seems that this film has been hyped as something far bigger than the story deserves. Furthermore, this material has already been covered in films like Wall Street. And if you’re looking for a shorter, insightful exposé of the moral anarchy of stock brokers, consider Margin Call as a much better summation.