Overview: Martin Scorsese follows the rise and sort-of fall of Jordan Belfort, a penny stockbroker who indulged in a life of vulgar excess, riding on a wave of trading corruption. 2013; Rated R; 180 minutes.
The Wolves: The first two hours of this film accelerate through a Lamborghini sprint of debauchery, drugs, and graphic sexuality, offering light brake taps when the ride nears moments of human drama. Martin Scorsese has always brought out the best of Leonardo DiCaprio, and here DiCaprio commits to, and invests in, the role more intensely than any he’s ever taken on. This sort of effort in a better film might have earned DiCaprio his Raging Bull moment. Jonah Hill, as Donnie Azoff, spearheads the humor brought on by Jordan’s degenerate millionaire posse. Film-goers can only hope that Hill develops a relationship with Scorsese as reliable as DiCaprio’s.
The Wall Street: In the current moment, America is a country lifting itself up on still-wobbly knees, recovering from national economic injuries suffered through crime and corruption just like that of Belfort and his cohorts. Scorsese, arguably America’s most iconic and celebrated working filmmaker, told Variety magazine that this film was realized “out of the frustration over the unregulated financial world.” But that frustration isn’t readily screen-present. Exhibition isn’t condemnation and from the opening to closing credits, I couldn’t help but feel that Scorsese, on some level, shares Belfort’s contempt for the American people. It’s in the way that the damage is never measured, the victims of the corruption spoken of only in passing, and even when the film toes a line of corrective justice, Jordan (the character and, in turn, the person) is thrown a line of opportunity to come across as dignified and principled. Note his rowdy and inspirationally-framed speech as he decides on-the-spot to reject an SEC deal that asks only for his resignation. Later, his passing of a confessional note to Donnie, his closest friend, to reveal the FBI-placed wire. In any society that cares to remain civilized and moral, that sort of dignity only matters when it isn’t offered in protection and celebration of pieces of shit. Jordan Belfort is a piece of shit. “Everyone wants to get rich,” Jordan states in the opening act. Wolf of Wall Street closes with two memorable images: the arresting FBI Agent (Mark Strong) riding home from work on the train, fatigued and possibly remorseful, and then a still frame held on dozens of hopeful and hungry zombies under a “reformed” Jordan’s tutelage. By choosing to punctuate his film thusly, Scorsese cosigns Jordan Belfort’s irresponsible downward casting of blame.
Overall: Scorsese works best when the stakes are higher and his character adoration holds its distance. Here, the pace is manic, both the craft and acting have their moments, and the comedic stretches are surprisingly funny, but none of that substantiates the film’s three long hours of immoral indifference.