Film review by Pete Mason
It’s impressive to watch a movie and find no redeeming qualities in the main character, then go home and still be teeming with vitriol towards that character – a non-existent being, but one who has been presented to the audience in such a manner that all you can think of is “Wow, what a prick this guy is!” That character is Jordan Belfort, the title character in Martin Scorcese’s latest masterpiece, “The Wolf of Wall Street,” played to a T by Leonardo DiCaprio. Consistently playing rich assholes (see: “The Aviator,” “The Great Gatsby”), DiCaprio is searching for Oscar gold, and it ticks me off that he nearly deserves it for this role. It’s not that he doesn’t act well – it’s damn fine acting, so much so that I have some serious qualms about DiCaprio for impressing upon me such a degrading individual, highlighting his excesses as positives and all that he neglects as the drawbacks to his post-Gordon Gekko lifestyle.
In short, DiCaprio turns into the worst human being (this side of a dictator) and ends up drilling the point home over the course of three hours. But he doesn’t do it alone. He has the help of Donnie Azoff, played by Jonah Hill in a supportive, but not scene-stealing role that gave Hill a deserved Oscar nomination. Usually I’m expecting the loud, uncomfortable Jonah Hill playing a loud, uncomfortable character. But when you add in nervousness, drug and money addiction, and you have a whole new Hill – Donnie isn’t as much of a jerk as Jordan is, but when he has a chance to complement the extreme douchebaggery perspiring from Jordan, he is there and never fails. With pearly white teeth and oversized ’80s glasses, Azoff goes down a road of drug abuse and unscrupulous trading with little remorse because greed sells. Greed becomes their god, their cult leader, one that wields immense power over anyone who succumbs to it. The minions at Stratton Oakmont are the suckers in this cult, but not as much as their clients.
The plot is complicated, because it deals with the financial markets, and Belfort is cocky enough to remind you of this throughout the film, because you don’t know how the financial markets work, and that’s how he makes money off of you. Reeling in middle class suckers and dumping larger stocks on them to mask the real payoff – penny “pink sheet” stocks – was the scam, but he didn’t treat it as such, he just glorified the greed in a way that this movie should have been called “Wall Street 2,” rather than the Oliver Stone-forced sequel. All that matters is that Belfort and his first wife move from a small apartment to Trump Towers, they splurge in the late ’80s/early ’90s, glorifying everything there is to hate about the 1% and putting a cherry of unbridled enthusiasm to keep being greedy on top of the whole package.
Simply put – I f***ing hate this character, and thanks to Terence Winter’s script and DiCaprio’s acting, you probably will, too. Belfort leaves that much of an impression on you, unless you admire a take-no-prisoners overachiever who does exactly as he pleases with no one telling him no. If that’s the case, well, just watch the movie and see how much is lost in the end due to this greed. Belfort has few redeeming qualities beyond earning money for those who couldn’t do it themselves. The extent of my focus on Belfort should say a lot. Screw this guy.
The glorification of theft takes up half the three hours, giving an incredibly lengthy and complicated back story on how Jordan went from working on Black Monday in 1987 to owning a giant yacht named for his second wife, Naomi less than five years later. All this background does is show you the rise of Belfort and every dickish thing he did along the way, how he made his way up, and the opportunism that coursed through his veins. If there is inspiration found in this character, it is to compel you to run in the opposite direction. The lesson to take from Belfort is to not let ego and greed rule your life and decisions.
While Hill and DiCaprio are the focus of the film, the supporting cast that get screwed over in various ways are an incredible lineup of talent. Matthew McConaughey is Mark Hanna, Belfort’s first boss who primes him on the cocaine-and-hookers regimen so that he may become a successful stock broker, and still looks gaunt from his role in “Dallas Buyers Club.” Rob Reiner is a voice-of-reason father to Jordan, one whose advice is summarily ignored throughout the film. Jean Dujardin as a Swiss banker gives as good as he gets from the arrogant Belfort, and newcomer Margot Robbie plays Naomi, Belfort’s second wife, a gorgeous blonde who naturally, is taken for granted by Belfort as he looks out for no one but himself.
As the plot thickens, and Belfort doubles down on an SEC and FBI investigation, he finally gets what’s coming to him, both legally and in the form of a painfully hilarious Quaaludes overdose. Then, when faced with 20 years in jail, he flips, turns everyone in who helped him rise to the top, and gets three years at Club Fed. Once he gets out, he sets sights on Australia and starts fresh, scamming all over again. Sociopaths don’t learn their lessons. Hell, he wrote the book that “The Wolf of Wall Street” is based upon, and ends up scamming money from moviegoers like you and me, $10 at a time, to see a film that details how he repeatedly fucked over tons of people. And like them, we’re suckers, because who can resist this hot-mess of a human being? He doesn’t have appeal, but you can’t look away as he rises, slips, then rises some more.
Still, “The Wolf of Wall Street” is a fantastic three hours and is worthy of all the critical praise it has received, for acting, directing and writing. The time goes by fast, and you fall into the film, rooting the bad guys through their Bacchanalia, even if they are the absolute worst.
“The Wolf of Wall Street” is playing at a number of Local 518 movie theaters, including the Spectrum 8. The film is rated R and is 180 minutes long. Bring a coffee.