Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Greed is Great

Film: The Wolf of Wall Street
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

I knew when The Wolf of Wall Street showed up in the mail from NetFlix I was going to have a difficult time watching it. This has nothing to do with it being a movie I didn’t want to watch. Actually, the opposite is true; I tend to like Scorsese and I tend to like Leonard DiCaprio. No, the issue here was that I knew going in that there’s a lot of sex and drugs in ths film, which means that I can’t watch when my kids are around. Through no planning on my end, I got the house to myself for a chunk of time today, and I took the opportunity to watch.

My guess, as happens with films like this one is that most of my readers have already seen this, which means a short recap so as not to bore anyone. This is the story of Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio), a Wall Street trader with a fortune in the bank and a serious lack of control over his various appetites—that’s the sex and drugs from the previous paragraph. We see his rise and fall as a trader twice. It’s the second rise, filled as it is with shady dealings, cheating, massive amounts of drugs (seriously, Tony Montana doesn’t do this much blow) and wanton sex with virtually anything that moves, that takes up the bulk of the film.

Along for the ride with him, primarily, is Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), who tries too hard to look like a stereotypical WASP, complete with off-putting porcelain white teeth. The two, as well as their collection of employees and cronies, work a series of borderline cons and outright deceptions on their customers. This eventually involves a variety of government agencies including the FBI, not that any of this stops the insanity or the vast amount of incoming money.

There are only a couple of ways that this film can end, and it certainly ends in that way. It’s the getting there and the insanity, the wild sex, the epic drug use that is worth watching. It’s not about the destination, but the journey.

I’m going to make a few strange connections here. The first is with a personal favorite actor, Bruce Campbell. One of the things I like about Campbell is that he’s an excellent physical actor. Watch the scene in Evil Dead II when he attacks himself with his own hand to see what I mean. What’s the connection? It’s evident that Leonardo DiCaprio has the same sort of skill. I’m specifically referencing the scene where the epic-level Quaaludes kick in here, a scene that is absolutely rife with equal parts comedy and terror.

The biggest revelation here is that for anyone who didn’t already realize it, The Wolf of Wall Street marks Leonardo DiCaprio as one of the most talented actors of his generation. This is a gutsy performance because it is so completely over-the-top but completely within the realm of reality and believability. Jordan Belfort is playing tennis without the net, but not in such a way that we can’t believe the reality.

DiCaprio, while the focus of the film, is ably assisted by Jonah Hill and several other solid performances as well. Primary here is Margot Robbie as DiCaprio’s second wife. It’s an interesting performance because she is partially sympathetic and partially aggravating and annoying, and this is all by design. It’s also interesting to see Rob Reiner as Max Belfort, Jordan’s father. Reiner, of course, got his start as an actor, and it’s nice to see him in front of the camera again. I’m also happy to see a role for P.J. Byrne (as “Rugrat”), who is someone I recognized immediately. It took me awhile, but I finally realized that he’s someone I knew from Burn Notice (another Bruce Campbell connection).

Worthy of special note is Matthew McConaughey, who makes an appearance in some respects like Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross. He appears briefly as sort of a spiritual mentor for Jordan Belfort, and he’s gone far too soon from the film.

The Wolf of Wall Street is, more or less, what Wall Street wanted to be, and because of that, it’s pretty great. I might also venture a guess that this is the sort of film that Martin Scorsese has probably always wanted to make as well. And all of us are the beneficiaries. Just don’t watch with the kids around. Seriously. It’ll scar them.

Why to watch The Wolf of Wall Street: DiCaprio solidifies his position as one of the great actors of his generation.
Why not to watch: If you have kids, you have to watch with one eye on the screen and one eye on the door to make sure they don’t walk in. Ever.


  1. Hell yeah! I loved this movie, but I do understand the people who don't--it's a dive into exploitation and debauchery, and if you can't handle that, this is not your film. In Korea, I worked with a young woman who *hated* it, but she had a history in working with addicts in rehab, so she just could not get behind watching this kind of stuff as a form of entertainment, which I suppose is understandable.

    But I totally dug it, and I did not feel the running time on this one. That Quaaludes scene is amazing and hilarious. Although the Oscar went to McConaughey, which I can also support, I was almost entirely rooting for DiCaprio. This is probably his best performance, in my opinion, and if there was a role he deserved to win for, it was this one.

    And did you catch that the real Jordan Belfort was the guy who introduced DiCaprio's Belfort at the end of the movie?

    1. It does feel faster than its running time, which is always a good thing with a film that touches three hours.

      I can see disliking it as well. It's all excess all the time. If you're not prepared for that, it's more than a little bit shocking.

      The Quaaludes scene, for me, is the one that solidified this as both a great film and as a comedy. The end result of that scene is fantastic as well. The best part is that while that scene is completely insane, within the context of everything else that has happened, it's completely believable.

      Is this DiCaprio's best performance? I don't know. He's had a lot of really damn good performances. I'd rank it high, though. I'm not sure I can distinguish between the best DiCaprio performances--The Aviator, What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, The Departed...the guy doesn't do a lot that isn't worth seeing.

  2. This was my favorite film of the nine nominees. The revelation for me was that DiCaprio could be so funny with the physical comedy and I completely agree the Quaaludes scene is fantastic. I don't really remember him ever being in a comedic role before.

    I remember when he went up on stage to accept his Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical that he seemed really amused by the whole concept that he might have been in a comedy. He specifically congratulated his "fellow comedians" - among them Christian Bale (for American Hustle) as another nod to some of the rather unexpected nominees in the comedy category.

    And how hot is Margot Robbie in the scene where she first steps out in her birthday suit? I had never seen her before in anything and that sure as hell made me want to see her more. And to show I'm not completely shallow, I had no clue that she was Australian until I looked into her more after the movie was over. I thought she nailed the Brooklyn accent.

    1. I knew this was a film you favored. I can certainly see why. I don't think I like it as much as you and Nick do; for me, a lot of this film felt like sensory overload.

      I didn't really peg this as a comedy until the Quaalude scene. At that moment, I realized that there's actually a lot of comedy here because it's too over the top to be anything else.

      Margot Robbie is indeed gorgeous. But you're right about the accent. I wouldn't have pegged her as an Aussie without looking her up on IMDB. She pulls the role of just about perfectly. I'm not sure I can think of someone who would've been better suited to it.

  3. I liked this a lot too. I hesitated before starting it because of the running time. But I had two long movies - The Sorrow and the Pity and Hoop Dreams - in the "Scheduled to Record" queue and I figured I'd better knock this one out so I can put a little space between these longer movies.

    I was able to start it early enough that even with a few short breaks, I finished a little after 9 pm. That helped a lot!

    I liked the episodic nature of the film, and the differing tone of each episode. There's a little Hunter S. Thompson in the scene with the super-Quaaludes. A little international intrigue. (So nice to see Joanna Lumley! She should have been in it more.) Then they enter Disaster Movie territory with the yacht going down in the storm.

    Leo was great, but darned if Jonah Hill didn't steal every scene he was in. I think my favorite scene was the one in the parking lot where he was handing off the money and he was taunting the other guy for no other reason except that he's a stupid jerk.

    So, yeah, I liked it a lot.

    But my favorite Leonardo DiCaprio movie is still The Quick and the Dead.

    1. There's a lot to like with this one, but it's a bit extreme for a steady diet. As Nick mentions in his comment above, it's a lot like Scorsese doing an exploitation movie. I love the concept of that and I did like the movie, but I think I like the concept more than the result.