The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) review

This 2013 film by Martin Scorsese is based on the book of the same title by Jordan Belfort and tells the tale of Belfort's debauched rise to fortune during the late 1980's. After being unlucky enough to start his first day at a Wall Street firm on the day of the crash, Jordan (Leonardo DiCaprio) starts again from the bottom finding employment at an investment firm selling penny stocks. Unlike the high-end blue-chip stock, with a commission of one percent, these terrible investments earn fifty percent commission. With his incredibly persuasive sales technique and winning manner, Jordan is soon pulling in big money. He enlists the help of Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) as the two establish a boiler room firm of their own, rebranding themselves as Stratton Oakmont and soon doing a roaring trade. Their questionable practices soon brings the attention of the FBI to their door and they must fight to stay one step ahead of the law, while enjoying the excesses of their immense wealth.

The film offers an incredible look into the drug-fuelled hedonism of the 1980's stock-market lifestyle. A life marked by rampant sex-drives, obscene drug-use, where morality is a dirty word and the only thing that matters is making money. It goes out of its way to be entertaining, as we see Jordan crashing his helicopter into his front lawn after earlier snorting cocaine from between the buttocks of a prostitute. The film pushes the boundaries of taste in a way that is spellbinding and the constant foul-language almost seems like a sort of poetry. Almost every scene tops the last in terms of vulgarity, smut, or downright silliness, although it is fair to say that it has its serious moments. We do see the destructive nature of Jordan's various addictions, on his personal life and on himself, but overall the film keeps it light and funny, offering us a wild ride through a world most people will never experience first-hand. If there is one failing of the film it is length. This is a story in serious need of an editor. Although I can't really complain about any one individual scenes, there are several that either repeat an idea, or go on a little too long. The latter half of the film in particular starts to suffer by attempting to almost give a blow-by-blow account of what eventually brought down the man they called "The Wolf of Wall Street", and casts off its more irreverent tone for an almost docu-drama style retelling of events. The cast do a fantastic job, and it's easy to see that Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, and Margot Robbie (who plays Belfort's wife) were relishing their roles here as essentially overgrown children.

The film is essentially a black comedy, and largely steers clear of making any moral judgement on its characters (although it's probably not too difficult for the audience to make up their minds concerning the various things they get up to). It is a great counterpoint to films that show the darker side of capitalism, this film shows it entirely from the point of view of those who benefitted from the greed and illegal activities, the hilarity, and complete lack of care for those suffering because of it. Martin Scorsese does a fantastic job of directing and the cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto creates a world that almost shimmers with money, from penthouse apartments, expensive yachts, and lush country estates. They really take you inside this world, whether it's the high-energy, overwhelming office orgies, various drug experimentation, or more sedate business meetings. Overlong by a good half hour if not more, the film nevertheless is a masterpiece of no-limits film making that is not soon forgotten once you've seen it.