I remember the very first time I saw the initial trailer for Martin Scorsese‘s The Wolf of Wall Street. To be honest, I didn’t really care for it. It seemed like something perhaps even beneath the legend (entertaining as it might have been), but I was actually pretty curious to see how Leonardo DiCaprio embraced a potentially comedic role. The more I saw from the film though, the more I expected to like it but feel that it was minor Scorsese. Well, fast forward to this month when I actually saw the entire movie and…wow. Scorsese and DiCaprio have made something absolutely insane, and I mean that in the best way possible. This is a completely madcap movie that I actually feel is not only the funniest movie I’ve seen all year, it’s one of the very best in general. The Wolf of Wall Street is definitely headed towards a place among the very heights of my Top Ten list (somewhere in the top three), deservedly so. Scorsese hasn’t been this energized in years, DiCaprio gives what I consider to be his best performance to date playing Jordan Belfort, Jonah Hill is excellent as his sidekick, and Matthew McConaughey absolutely owns his short time on screen. Throw in an amazing script by Terence Winter (based on the memoirs of the real Belfort) along with the best female performance Scorsese has captured in a long time in Margo Robbie, and The Wolf of Wall Street is one of 2013’s best flicks, plain and simple.
From the very beginning (which features a voice cameo I won’t spoil), you can tell things will be ridiculous, though you have no idea just how far it’ll go. Then, we’re introduced to your protagonist/narrator Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio), a man who loves drugs, sex, and most of all…money. After explaining to us his humble upbringing, he shows us his extravagant life, all made possible by his financial firm Stratton Oakmont. We see him starting out on Wall Street, where a mentor in Mark Hannah (McConaughey) teaches him the ropes. Then, he’s off on his own, acquiring his own mentor along the way in Donnie Azoff (Hill). He recruits a bunch of his own employees and soon is teaching them how to make tons of money selling penny stocks to rich fools. Of course, they all become obscenely wealthy, leading to all sorts of debauchery. For Jordan, nothing is ever enough, so he trades in his wife Teresa (Cristin Milioti) for Naomie (Robbie), the so called “Dutchess of Bay Ridge”. The plot is kind of thin, showing all of their shenanigans before bringing in an FBI agent (Kyle Chandler) seeking to bring Jordan down, but the joy of this movie is watching all of the crazy things Jordan does. From a sex scene involving a candle to a riotous bit of physical comedy involving trying to open a car door, it’s a laugh riot, even if you really should be horrified.
I can’t even begin to explain how good Leonardo DiCaprio is in this movie. At times I’ve struggled with him, appreciating his performances more than embracing them, but that’s not the case here. It’s a gonzo bit of acting that would make Hunter S. Thompson blush. Everyone in the ensemble is good to great, but DiCaprio is nothing short of a revelation to me. After scoring a few Oscar nominations that I wouldn’t have personally given him, it’d be a real shame if he wasn’t embraced for this one. He’s damn near a comedy genius here. Jonah Hill is a bit more at home in this sort of thing, but he’s still quite good as perhaps even a worse person than DiCaprio plays. Hill has some great scenes, though his character fades a bit in the third act. Margot Robbie is a real discovery too, playing a seductress of a character but also managing to bring more humor than you’d expect into the role. As for Matthew McConaughey, his lunch scene with DiCaprio is one of the best scenes of the year for me (though DiCaprio’s attempts to open that car door has to be the best for me), with him stealing the scene completely. Other supporting turns include the aforementioned Kyle Chandler and Cristin Milioti, along with the likes of Joe Bernthal, Jean Dujardin, John Favreau, Spike Jonze, Rob Reiner, Ethan Suplee, and many more, all of whom get a shining moment or two. The true stars here are DiCaprio, Hill, McConaughey, and Robbie, though DiCaprio is the one who really gets to show off.
Aside from The Departed, it’s been a while since Martin Scorsese has done the work of a younger man in my eyes, but here with The Wolf of Wall Street he’s not only made one of his most youthful feeling films, but perhaps one of his best as well. It’s certainly his funniest to date, chock full of amazingly humorous moments. Armed with a script by Terence Winter that takes the basic idea of Boiler Room depicted in Belfort’s memoir and crosses it with Jackass, a fever dream, and Caligula (though Belfort apparently lived just as extreme a life), Scorsese is clearly having fun. This may not be a passion project, but he gives it his all, and it shows. I especially loved the editing on display from longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker, though DP Rodrigo Prieto deserves a bat on the back as well. Winter’s script too is just chock full of great scenes. The best compliment I can give is that you never once feel the length and three hours just fly by. This really is something unexpectedly special.
Without reservations, I loved The Wolf of Wall Street. Aside from Her, it might actually be my favorite film of 2013. I certainly didn’t laugh harder at anything. Everyone from DiCaprio to Scorsese to Schoonmaker to Winter has something special to show off here, and I’m so glad that they did. Knowing what I know now, it would have been a shame to have lost this one to 2014. This year deserved this movie. The flick is an absolute blast. Few things in 2013 have been more of a joy (as much as I should hate myself for enjoying the time spent with these characters) to behold as this one. The Wolf of Wall Street may not wind up being Oscar’s cup of tea, but it certainly was mine. I can’t recommend it enough.
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!