Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort makes Jay Gatsby’s weekend benders look like dinner parties. The prince of West Egg can’t hold a candle to the Wolf of Wall Street; instead of collared shirts, Belfort throws hundred dollar bills before banging his wife Naomi on a bed of money stacks aboard the yacht he bought her as a wedding present.
That’s just how Belfort, the king of the now defunct brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont, lived before his overblown lifestyle caught up to him and he got what was coming to him. DiCaprio teeters on the edge of overcompensating for Belfort’s beyond-wild lifestyle (to say he was a drug addict is criminally understating it), but director Martin Scorsese shows no attempt to reel in his actors in “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
One reason some may think DiCaprio overdoes it is because the lifestyle is so unbelievable. The real Belfort, who received 36 months in federal prison for what he did, wrote a book about his escapades; thus, could’ve stretched the truth at least a little bit. It’s possible some people may just not like the character: he punches his wife in the stomach, puts his daughter in danger, throws lobsters at the FBI, crash lands a helicopter, etc.
But Belfort is untouchable, like a Lamborghini that can’t be scratched in his inebriated dreams. He and his partner Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) are a poisonous team. Hill has some of the best lines of the film, but the image of him eating an employee’s goldfish will cover his lasting impact. A lot of Hill’s famous lines were worn out by the film’s promotional bits, which is too often the case.
Scorsese certainly doesn’t hold anything back as the director of this three-hour film. Scenes are long, nothing is cut and DiCaprio is allowed to do pretty much anything under the sun. This film gets off on excess, but some of its scenes are gold. Matthew McConaughey only has one scene, as Mark Hanna, but it’s one of the most important scenes in the film because it’s Belfort’s first day on the job and he’s buying the dream that Hanna sells during a lunch. You think Hanna is bat-shit crazy, until you see the richer version of him that Belfort becomes.
Belfort and Azoff are involved in a hilarious scene with the other VPs of Stratton Oakmont, discussing the pros and cons of hiring midgets to throw at giant, Velcro dart boards during a party — “The important thing you guys have to keep in mind is these things gossip. They get together and they gossip,” Azoff says.
Once more, Belfort gets in a heated argument with his wife Naomi (Margot Robbie), during which she throws multiple glasses of water on him and teases him to no end — “And from now on, it’s gonna be nothing but short, short skirts around the house. And you know what else, Daddy? Mommy is so sick and tired of wearing panties,” Naomi says, before putting her hot pink Stiletto in his face. It’s the first scene of many that Robbie steals from the better-known DiCaprio, and damn is she good.
Scorsese makes “The Wolf of Wall Street” something eerily similar to Ted Demme’s “Blow” (2001), starring Johnny Depp. DiCaprio’s Belfort narrates the film, similarly to Depp’s George Jung, except there are a few moments where Belfort intentionally and directly addresses the camera during a scene. In some cases, the narration gets in the scene’s way — when he’s discussing business with Swiss banker Jean Jacques Saurel (Jean Durjardin), poorly timed narration cuts up the actual conversation. It’s different, but I don’t totally hate it. “Blow” was shortened by montage success stories, while Scorsese bared all and added perfect commercial features that fit the film’s setting.
A three-hour film is always intimidating, but Scorsese leaves you feeling overwhelmed not by the film’s length but the volume of Belfort’s life. He lived unexpectedly. Where else are you going to find a scene with so much sexual tension between DiCaprio and Joanna Lumley, as Naomi’s Aunt Emma? The scene makes such a quick cut to an overhead view of Belfort banging Naomi on a bed of cash that, for a moment, I thought it was Aunt Emma. It was something (someone) you expected Belfort to do and if the film convinced you that was possible, well then, it was a success.
“The Wolf of Wall Street”: ★★★1/2