The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on December 19, 2013 @

The Wolf of Wall Street is a brilliant capstone for director Marty Scorsese's jaunty, rambunctious career. It's bristling with his strengths and weaknesses.

Scorsese's great strengths of energy, audacity, and love of cinema careen through his latest film.

Scorsese - like most great directors - has moments of self-indulgence. There's excess and extra padding. At times The Wolf of Wall Street is Scorsese on cinematic quaaludes.

And the endings for his films often seem negligible. There's potent power during the films, but they often end with a near-whimper. The last shot of The Wolf of Wall Street - like several of Scorsese's films - is not compelling.

But the film, in toto, is.

Italianamerican Scorsese tries to shine a light on a foreign world - Wall Street. He throws Wall Street against the wall to see what sticks.

A lot does.

Scorsese has moved from the mean streets to the cruel streets of New York.

The Wolf of Wall Street is a rowdy portrait of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio). He resides in a reverberating city - it's New York, New York, New York, New York. He's no taxi driver or butcher. He's a salesman. On Wall Street, he joins a brokerage firm and, like his youthful peers, becomes a raging bull.

Jordan is mentored by Mark Hanna (Matthew McConnaughey). Hanna relates some stress relief tactics at a posh restaurant. He strikes his chest rhythmically. He pounds, "Kun-dun, Kun-dun, Kun-dun." At first Jordan is reluctant, then joins him with relish.

But the age of innocence comes to an end. When the market plummets in October of 1987, Jordan becomes one of the departed. He loses his job at the firm. He wanders through the street scenes of New York.

Jordan goes into selling penny stocks. Going into penny stocks is bringing out the dead. They're moribund. They have no future. There are no unions on Wall Street to protect buyers. No Hugo Chavez.

It's a New York wonderland, but penny stocks go down the rabbit hole. Alice doesn't live here anymore. Jordan does.

Stocks are like a casino. As Jordan becomes more successful, the brokerage gangs of New York declare war on each other.

Jordan becomes obscenely affluent. He buys a yacht and names it after his wife Naomi (Margot Lapaglia). The fabulous yacht Naomi is no boxcar Bertha. He considers taking it on my voyage to Italy. Like George Harrison: Living in the Material World, Jordan is tremendously successful. He's a whiz at public speaking.

But he loses control. He plunges himself into drugs. Like the color of money, at times his face is almost green. He takes over as the aviator of his helicopter, and nearly crashes it on his lawn.

But Jordan has an inevitable comeuppance. He hears an ominous sound. He wonders who's that knocking at my door? It's the FBI, led by Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler). They've turned Staten Island into Shutter Island, taking revealing photos of Jordan, his peers, and employees. Jordan resists for a long time. But he's garbed in cape fear.

Eventually after hours of torment, Jordan collapses. He turns the last waltz into the last temptation of Christ when he betrays his partners and employees. They got the big shave.

He's not one of the goodfellas.

Leonardo DiCaprio - in recent years a Scorsese staple - is as good if not better than he's ever been. He's forceful, manic, absurd. But, most importantly of all, he's credible as Jordan Belfort.

Director Scorsese knows his quaaludes. But after a while, one wearies of the unseemly repetition. You can only take so much of a wired Jonah Hill.

The Wolf of Wall Street breaks one record. Scorsese and writer Terence Winter, adapting Belfort's memoir, use the word "fuck" or some variation 1,142 times. Mamet, eat your heart out. Or take a quaalude.

In The Wolf of Wall Street, in one scene, Scorsese becomes the king of comedy. Jordan, reacting to an overdose of quaaludes, tries to crawl to his car. It's the funniest scene ever in a Scorsese film. The action and voiceover are hilarious.

The Wolf of Wall Street is a howling success.

Wolves have a wider vision than humans. Their vision is sharp. They can recognize shades of gray. They have an extra lens.

Martin Marcantonio Luciano Scorsese has spent his life in dark movie theatres.

He sees things other mortals don't.

Scorsese is the visionary wolf of cinema.

© 2000-2024 Tony Macklin