The Wolf of Wall Street is a dazzling example of excess at its worst. These money hungry characters are despicable, insane and repellent, yet writer Terence Winter (The Sopranos) and director Martin Scorsese depict these sordid lives in an entertaining and lively manner. We can’t help but smile at every absurd turn. Acclaimed filmmaker, Martin Scorsese, is in top form, hurling the audience through a drug-and-sex-fueled debauchery with an unrelenting kinetic energy. By the time the credits roll, I felt drugged, dizzy, yet somehow wanted to walk back into the theater and buy another ticket.
The film is a black comedy, one of the best since Scorsese’s After Hours, which is a brilliant nightmarish vision of the hip sectors of New York City, circa 1980s. Wolf follows the rise and fall of stockbroker Belfort who, after the stock market crash in 1987, gets a job selling penny stocks at a small, garage sales boiler room in Long Island. Jordan Belfort was obviously more ambitious and motivated than his fellow salesman, and as a result, starts his own firm.
Meanwhile, Belfort has a chance encounter with one of his neighbors, Donnie Azoff, played to comic perfection by Jonah Hill (Superbad, Moneyball). After Belfort tells him that he earned $70,000 the previous month, Donnie wants in. Jonah Hill steals the show playing a pretentious, wanna-be Wasp, who becomes DiCaprio’s right-hand man. When they first sit and talk in a bar about their new business venture, they bond like brothers; they talk, laugh, and yes, smoke crack.
As soon as the money flows in, an entire ocean of cocaine, Quaaludes and hookers-galore literally wash over the screen with technical bedazzlement. Being this bad has never looked so good.
The film opens in the middle of the story and shows the firm’s pumped-up stock brokers partying and tossing midgets at a velcro dart board. Scorsese uses a freeze-frame effect as a midget is thrown in the air, and DiCaprio’s voice-over speaks to the audience. The style and film grammar lets the audience know that you’ve entered the film universe of the great Martin Scorsese. As far as I know, Scorsese is the first filmmaker to engage a voice-over in the middle of a freeze-frame. In fact, he did it so well in Goodfellas that Spike Lee couldn’t resist and applied this editing style in Malcom X a year later. Whether you’re familiar with Scorsese’s pulsating camera work or not, there’s no denying the furious momentum of The Wolf of Wall Street.
Despite the darkly roasted universe in which this frat pack of frauds inhabits, the high-octane performances, blistering dialogue and humiliating circumstances are some of the funniest damn moments I’ve seen on the big screen in quite some time. When Leonardo DiCaprio takes one too many Quaaludes and engages in a stupefying altercation with Jonah Hill (equally as fucked up), I felt embarrassed to laugh. The physical comedy of these two Quaalude-up buffoons were up to par with the silent film star Charlie Chaplin. It’s absolutely hilarious in all the wrong places.
Scorsese is one of those filmmakers who dabbled heavily in the 70’s drug culture; he made it out alive, but some, never made it through the 80s. The filmmakers are very specific when it comes to the pervasive drug use. Belfort’s voice-over articulates the euphoric effects of Quaaludes, which was an enormously popular drug in the 70s, and later off the market in the 80s. However, filthy rich tycoons, such as the Wolf could afford to seek and purchase off-the-market drugs in the 90s.
The script isn’t too concerned about guiding the audience through a tightly structured narrative. Director Martin Scorsese and writer Terence Winters want to engulf the audience in the excessive lifestyle of this particular corrupt culture. The Wolf of Wall Street seems to chase its own tail, but how else can one bring a realistic perspective of Jordan Belfort’s madness? The film depicts a story we’ve seen in a lot of biopics: the rise to success, seduced by corruption, and then, the inevitable fall from grace. And trust me, you’ll be laughing all the way.
*** ½ (out of four stars)
"The Wolf of Wall Street"
USA, 180 min.
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Terence Winter (Based on the book, "The Wolf of Wall Street," written by Jordan Belfort)
Theater Locations in Fort Lauderdale metroplex
The Classic Gateway Theatre
1820 East Sunrise Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33304
AMC Coral Ridge 10
3401 North East 26th Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33306
Auto Nation IMAX Theatre
401 SW 2nd Street
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33306