After hearing mixed reviews about Martin Scorsese‘s latest film venture The Wolf of Wall Street I wasn’t sure what I was in for. What it turned out to be was a fast-paced story about a man who sacrifices the luxuries of a real family for the pleasures of money, drugs, alcohol and sex while living the high life working as a stock broker. Chronicling the life of Jordan Belfort, it begins with a young man eager to climb the ladder of Wall Street in his twenties and ends with a man who has to pay the price for having taken it all too far. In order to grow his corporation and earn more money, Belfort, along with a few other close comrades, barely blinks an eye before taking part in illegal measures, barely skirting away from the FBI who are looking for any mistake to bring him down.
The first half of the film is practically a porn film – filled with the vices of sex, drugs and alcohol to which Belfort succumbs, ruining his marriage to his first wife. There is really no redeemable quality in him at this point as his initial innocence and dedication to hard work give way to the addictions so common among Wall Street brokers at that time. As he remarries, this time to an ex-supermodel, and has a family of his own, the impact of his actions at work carry more weight as we see how it affects them. Compared to the party of the first part of the film, during the second part we see him as a man spiraling out of control rather than a man celebrating his successes. By the end of the film, once the FBI find a way to snag him and put him in jail, there is a conflict between the part of you that wants to see him in jail because of all the things he has done – and the part of you that feels pity for him because of how he lost his way.
Leonardo DiCaprio is captivating as Belfort. It is his performance that makes the film so great in my opinion. The movie itself is good, but the way DiCaprio pulls off such a multi-dimensional role is what made me walk away satisfied. The way he is able to show the drastic differences between Belfort in public and private as well as making us see him as both a villian and a sort of tragic hero is impressive. On the surface, Belfort is entirely unlikeable. He’s charming, but he exploits people for their money and spares no thought for his wife and children while spending his nights with hookers and hard-core drugs. At one point, he even gets incredibly high in the middle of his own home, creating a fiasco with his young daughter sitting in the next room watching cartoons. Of course, this follows possibly the most comedic scene of the film as he tries to get out of a nearby country club to return home. In the end, I found myself conflicted over how I ultimately feel about him – yes, he obviously did some horrible things in his life, but should we be critiquing the whole of the financial sector of America rather than this one man. To me, it comes across as a film criticizing the way big businesses and Wall Street did and do function in America more than a film trying to portray one man as the villain. For that I give credit to both DiCaprio and Scorsese.
This is not to leave out the supporting cast, who definitely help carry the narrative of the film. Matthew McConaughey perfectly plays Belfort’s first mentor Mark Hanna who was a stock broker at the beginning of the film, only to be brought down shortly after Belfort meets him. Nevertheless, Hanna is Belfort’s introduction into the world of Wall Street and its vices and therefore plays a huge role in the direction he takes and his subsequent downward spiral. And Jonah Hill is admittedly good as Belfort’s closest confidant Donnie Azoff, although I have never been a huge fan of his work. Throughout the film, Azoff encourages Belfort’s vices – even once Belfort has been through rehab and is avoiding all such substances, drinking only non-alcoholic beer.
On the other side, Belfort’s first wife Teresa, who is much less present in the film than his second, is played by Cristin Milioti. And Margot Robbie is truly great as Belfort’s second wife Naomi. At first, she goes along with his wild behavior and that is part of what draws him to her; however, by the end of the film she has realized that a family means settling down and giving up those indulgences while Belfort continues his addictions. Belfort’s father Max, played by Rob Reiner, begins as part of the company but comes to realize that Belfort must give it up to have a chance at a life with his family, eventually trying to convince Belfort to give it up before the FBI can really catch him for a crime with serious prison-time. And of course, the FBI agent Patrick Denham played by Kyle Chandler stands as a very competent adversary for Belfort. This is not to mention Belfort’s other allies in carrying out his various crimes in the pursuit of money. All of the supporting cast pulled off impressive performances.
Considering its nomination for Best Picture as well as DiCaprio’s for Best Actor, I would not tag it as my top choice for Best Picture, but DiCaprio should give the other men in the Best Actor category a run for their money.