By Laurie Coker
With pure unadulterated decadence, debauchery and depravity – from poverty to Wall Street and on to sleaze Street – Jordan Belfort did it all and Martin Scorsese’s darkly comedic telling of Belfort’s rags to riches story, by way of penny stocks, drugs and carousing, is perhaps one of the best films of the year. Scorsese’s finest films are those about real life characters and The Wolf of Wall Street, a wildly fictionalized version of Belfort’s life, is no exception. With Leonardo DiCaprio playing Belfort, the film hits its mark.
Belfort manages to earn his broker’s license on Black Friday one of the worst days ever on Wall Street, sending many reeling and costing Belfort his job. But Belfort, not a man to be down long, reinvents himself as a peddler of “penny stocks.” Fraud and frolicking teem in this poorly regulated corner of the financial industry and Belfort, a fast –talking dreamer, cons his way to wealth, managing to found his own company, Stratton Oakmont, and surround himself with cronies like Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill). The partners share a taste for Quaaludes and a hunger for money. Belfort divorces his first wife for a hot blond, Naomi Lapaglia (Margot Robbie) and spends most of this time, when not making money, bedding (multiple women) boozing and binging. In the wake of outlandish spending and blatant corruption, the SEC starts to notice Stratton Oakmont, but Belfort’s real problems begin when FBI agent Greg Coleman (well played by Kyle Chandler) opens a file on him and the rest, as they say….
Having recently watched DeCaprio in The Aviator (as the late Howard Hughes), it is easy to understand why Scorsese picked him to play Belfort, at least as screenwriter Terence Winter, whose source material is Belfort himself, depicts him. Surrounded by an exceptional ensemble cast, DeCaprio shines and in this, he is better than ever – part Hughes and part Jay Gatsby and aptly manic and wild-eyed. Hill is creepy and effective as Jordan’s drug addicted sidekick, proving that he is more than just a goofball comedian. Matthew McConaughey, who appears in just three early scenes, gives an unforgettable performance and speech (a diatribe about the Wall Street mentality) and Rob Reiner impresses, and cracked me up, as Belfort’s father.
Not known to shy away from pushing the rating envelope, Scorsese’s film is brazenly resplendent with nudity, sexual debauchery and insane drug orgies. And comedy. While the film notably has its serious side (and its commentary on greed), it is in its dark comedy that The Wolf of Wall Street works. I laughed hard and out loud and marveled at the mastery with which Scorsese paces his story – even at nearly three hours of runtime – I ate up each shameless moment. By all accounts we should detest Belfort. He is after all the epitome of everything wrong with wealth and his lifestyle is outlandish and detestable, but somehow we don’t, something we can attribute to Scorsese and his exceptional star.
The Wolf of Wall Street will offend some, but not me. Maybe I am more warped than I thought or care to admit, but because of, or perhaps in spite of, all the wickedness, Scorsese once again reeled me in. Loaded with raw voyeuristic energy and seething with sleaziness, Scorsese’s film earns an A from me. If Belfort’s life even remotely resembles what Scorsese depicts, one might either feel envy or disgust or both, but one will most certainly feel something.