Friday, January 3, 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street - Movie Review

The Wolf of Wall Street is a movie about the meteoric rise of a man named Jordan Belfort and the eventual consequences of the lifestyle he found himself trapped in. Martin Scorsese is the director of the movie which is based on a story written by Terence Winter and Mr. Belfort himself. Actors portraying characters in this movie include Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau, and Jean Dujardin.

Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) started his career within the hallowed halls of Wall Street in a very unfortunate manner, although he was able to learn some very valuable lessons from Mark Hanna (McConaughey), a senior trader who acted as a sort of mentor for a very short, but important time. After the company Belfort worked for went under during a market crash, he decided to set out on his own and began a journey that would see him rise from literally nothing to one of the biggest power brokers in the market. As his firm Stratton Oakmont gained more and more power, it also gained the attention of the federal government for accusations of wrong doing and criminal activity.

Of course, this had no effect on Belfort, his partner Donnie Azoff (Hill), and a growing mob of stock broker employees who were each hell bent on doing anything their boss asked because in return they knew he had the ability to lead them to unheard of success and riches. As money, power, alcohol, sex, and drugs began to creep into and eventually dominate Belfort's life, the cracks in his armor began to show and, as the feds saw the opening they needed, began plotting to take down and eventually use his connections to their full advantage.

Martin Scorsese has a history of making movies that are edgy, flashy, and very highly respected for how well they are put together. Leonardo DiCaprio has become well known for powerful performances and picking roles that will challenge not only himself but the audience he is playing to. This is the fifth time the two have worked together on a film and each time the results have been met with high praise from both critics and audiences alike. I'm not sure where The Wolf of Wall Street would fall when lined up next to Gangs of New York or The Departed but, what I do know is that it was a thoroughly entertaining experience.

Clocking in at almost exactly three hours, this movie is definitely an investment in your time, but when the credits begin to roll, you won't feel like you took a loss as the story is so fast paced you will barely notice the time flying by. Normally, any movie even close to this long will have spots where it slows down or even comes to a screeching halt, but Scorsese's pacing is so relentless, I was actually surprised when it came to an end. If anything, I felt he could have toned it down a little bit as some sequences really start to go over the edge and threaten to sink the whole thing but this is also where the director shows his experience and expertise in not letting the movie get away from him or the audience. Keeping both the characters in the movie and the audience in the theater just barely on the brink of collapse and ruin is a very tenuous road to travel, especially when dealing with some of the outlandish (and mostly true!) things Belfort puts himself through. I was almost exhausted at times just watching him go from one drug fueled escapade to another, all while staying one step ahead of both the competition and the feds.

From Jack Dawson to Jay Gatsby, Leonardo DiCaprio has played many great characters, but I doubt if you will find one role that would be as challenging to take on as the version of Jordan Belfort that Scorsese and screenwriter Terence Winter have given him to take on. This is a role that commands an extremely talented performer to deliver it properly and Mr. DiCaprio dives head first into the hilarity and insanity of the character just as effortlessly as he chews up the more dramatic and powerful moments that really sell the entire package.

Standing next to DiCaprio during a good portion of the movie is the always unpredictable Jonah Hill who has really stepped up lately and taken on some very challenging roles. Playing the fully fictional Donnie Azoff had to be both scary and exciting for Hill but, just like his performance in Moneyball, he knocks this one out of the park. Honestly, I've never been a big fan of Hill, but if he keeps bringing the heat like he does here, I will be forced to come around. For someone known primarily as a goofball comedian, he really holds his own working alongside his more dramatically respected peers which I'm sure is accomplished in part thanks to Mr. Scorsese's directing talents. The famed filmmaker also manages to get the most out of a seemingly revolving door of cast members from McConaughey's brilliant although short turn as Belfort's mentor to Jean Dujardin who, playing a Swiss banker, chews up every scene he's in.

The Wolf of Wall Street is a movie that will go down as one of the most entertaining experiences of the year while featuring a command performance from one of Hollywood's biggest stars. I also feel compelled to warn you to be prepared for gratuitous amounts of scandal, excess, vulgarity, nudity, and debauchery as there is no shortage of any of these things. In fact, the knife edge of insanity that this movie balances itself on is what makes it such a fun ride and may even inspire you to get out there and have a few (hopefully legal) adventures of your own. Just keep in mind that, even though this movie is based on a real life story, these are trained professionals participating in a dramatic reenactment. Please, do not try this stuff at home.


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