The Wolf of Wall Street is another in a long line of American excess stories from director Martin Scorsese. Most of the time – Raging Bull, Goodfellas, even Casino – we feel something for at least a couple of the characters living in this parallel universe.
Not so here.
Corrupt penny stock brokers and the parasites who live off them don’t really garner a lot of sympathy. Instead, we’re just watching the mousetrap we know will snap down sooner or later.
Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) broke into the stock market in the mid-1980s. In 1987, Black Monday knocked him out of a job and forced him to look at a new way to make a living. He turned to penny stocks, which cost next to nothing but return at an extremely high percentage for brokers, and built his company into a billion-dollar titan in a matter of a couple of years.
He got into drugs – everything, apparently, but mostly blow and ludes – and got into hookers, too.
Obviously, it’s going to crash. That’s the legacy of the 1980s. But Belfort keep the feds at bay a lot longer than you might think, and somehow, his heart never exploded.
Of all the Scorsese-DiCaprio movies (The Wolf of Wall Street marks their fifth collaboration in 11 years), this one features Leo’s most intense performance. It’s a three-hour high-wire act and he doesn’t disappoint. It’s also really funny, thanks principally to Jonah Hill and a sharp supporting ensemble that also includes Rob Reiner.
There are more three-hour movies these days than there should be, and Scorsese could have lopped 20 minutes out of this one without many complaints, but to sustain this kind of pace and energy for 180 minutes takes a master craftsman willing to show all the angles and explore the most uncomfortable ones.
So in that sense, this is classic Scorsese.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, and Margot Robbie. Directed by Martin Scorsese. Rated R, 180 mins.