Wednesday, April 12, 2017

#2,336. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Directed By: Martin Scorsese

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie

Line from the film: "On a daily basis I consume enough drugs to sedate Manhattan, Long Island, and Queens for a month"

Trivia: The actors snorted crushed B vitamins for scenes that involved cocaine

Even at age 70, director Martin Scorsese can turn out a hip, stylish motion picture, which is exactly what he did with 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street.

Based on actual events, The Wolf of Wall Street tells the story of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), who in the 1980’s was an up-and-coming stockbroker, eager to make his way on Wall Street. Unfortunately, his arrival coincided with the market crash of October 19, 1987, and as a result, his career was seemingly over before it began.

To make ends meet, Jordan accepted a job at a small Long Island brokerage that specialized in penny stocks, and soon made enough money there to go out on his own. Partnering with his neighbor Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), Jordan hired old friends and trained them in the fine art of selling penny stocks to rich suckers. Within a few years, Jordan Belfort was back on Wall Street, and his company, Stratton Oakmont, was raking in millions.

Unfortunately, Jordan's rapid success went straight to his head; he and his co-workers regularly invited prostitutes up to the office, and Jordan began experimenting with every drug imaginable, from Quaaludes to cocaine. He divorced his wife Teresa (Cristin Milioti) to marry supermodel Naomi (Margot Robbie), and the wild parties he threw on his custom yacht would have made a college fraternity blush. 

Before long, all of New York was talking about Jordan Belfort, and his meteoric rise caught the attention of FBI agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler), who dug deep into Stratton Oakmont’s business practices in an effort to put Jordan and his team behind bars for many, many years.

Jordan’s father, Max (Rob Reiner), who also acted as his business manager, begged Jordan to make a deal with the feds that would keep him out of prison. But Jordan Belfort wasn’t about to go quietly into the night, and it would take a series of scandals to bring his reign as “The Wolf of Wall Street” to a catastrophic end.

As with many of Scorsese’s best works, The Wolf of Wall Street has its share of unforgettable scenes. An early sequence where Jordan demonstrates to Donnie and the others how to unload a worthless stock on a wealthy client is as funny as it is distasteful, and a speech Jordan delivers to his employees late in the movie, in which he was to announce his retirement only to change his mind midway through, was dramatic enough to bring a tear to my eye. 

Yet, for my money, the film’s single greatest (and funniest) sequence has Jordan and Donnie taking outdated Quaaludes by the handful, only to discover later on (and at a very inopportune time) that the pills they believed lost their potency simply had a delayed effect.

From top to bottom, the cast of The Wolf of Wall Street is superb; DiCaprio received a Best Actor nomination for his performance as Jordan Belfort (and, in my opinion, he should have won it), while Jonah Hill breathes enough life into Donnie to take what is essentially a scuzzball character and make him a bit more palpable. In addition, Margot Robbie is effectively sexy as Naomi, the woman who stood by Jordan through the ups and downs, while Rob Reiner steals a scene or two as Max, the sole voice of reason in Jordan Belfort’s otherwise chaotic life. 

Yet the true star of The Wolf of Wall Street is its director, whose patented, highly-stylized approach to the material (swooping cameras, slow-motion, engaging narration, etc.) helped make The Wolf of Wall Street the best movie I’ve seen this decade.

Of course, Martin Scorsese is no stranger to greatness; in each of the previous four decades, he managed to turn out at least one masterpiece. In the ‘70s, it was Taxi Driver, then just as the ‘80s were getting underway he hit us with Raging Bull. Throw in Goodfellas (which kicked off the ‘90s) and The Departed (the 2006 movie that finally netted him an Academy Award), and you have what is already one hell of a filmography.

It’s way too early to close the books on Scorsese in the 2010’s. But even if he fails to deliver at his normal level from here on out, at least he gave us The Wolf of Wall Street, and in so doing has continued what was already a truly remarkable streak.

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