Movie Review: 'The Wolf of Wall Street' (2013)

Movies have been made about debauched behavior, the rise and fall of an individual, whether consumed by greed, power or both and yet Martin Scorsese's 3-hour opus is unlike anything that has ever been done before. A towering epic that takes viewers on a scintillating tour that ventures into the dark corners of almost every hedonistic impulse imaginable. "The Wolf of Wall Street" is not a glimpse into decadence; it is a full throttle submersion.

A testosterone fueled, up-close and personal expose, whose guide is not shy in sharing every sordid tidbit. Contrary to what its detractors have said, "Wolf" is a depiction of scandalous behavior, not a glorification of it. There is a fine line between entertainment, and exploiting a bad situation for laughs and Scorsese walks it.

When you are dealing with a movie that has attracted such controversial attention, criticism is par for the course and there has been a lot. Critics have complained about the movie's runtime, claiming it is excessive for a story of this nature.

Personally? There has not been a movie with an hour and a half runtime that packs the content into its allotted duration, the way "The Wolf of Wall Street" does. Unlike its abbreviated brethren, there is not a frame or monologue wasted here. No malaise or boredom daring to set in.

How could it with Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) as the ringleader of this cinematic circus? If you have read anything more about this man, before or after watching the movie based on his life, you can attest that he has lived enough colorful days to fill another 3 hours, easy.

The breakneck pace of this film never wavers and it accomplishes this feat, while never leaving its audience behind. Instead it enraptures, as DiCaprio motions viewers through every ride at its madcap amusement park.

"Wolf of Wall Street" sets the standard for long-running films so high because Scorsese never allows its focus to wander from its subject matter or lose steam in the slightest. By setting such a benchmark and proving it possible to fill a long film with copious amounts of content that never bores, "Wolf of Wall Street" proves the idea that such an accomplishment is impossible, dead wrong.

After seeing what Scorsese handily manages, it becomes clear that other filmmakers are accepting a lower bar than they should or simply lacking the source material of a character with enough cinematic depth, to be capable of achieving it.

Never losing momentum, the film’s comedy is a constant mixture of high-velocity chatter weaved with physical exertion. Complacency is not a word within its vernacular. While profanity in other films can oftentimes feel like a blatant attempt to ramp up the “risqué factor," the profane lingo that saturates "Wolf of Wall Street" reads with the strangely prosaic telling of a sonnet. Uttered without hesitation, the film is so immersive in its execution of it, that after the first couple of obscenities; it manages to disappear into the fabric of the film.

Herein lies the key to enjoying "The Wolf of Wall Street," letting go. Taking the ride and allowing the script, the direction and the performances to work their magic. This film is the equivalent of being hypnotized. It only works if you let it. 

The performances in “Wolf of Wall Street” are all top drawer. There is not a single miscast; from the leads to the extras it is perfection and Scorsese gets the best out of every one of them. The cast's vibrant excitement remaining palatable throughout.

It is apparent from the opening narrative that Leonardo DiCaprio knows this is the role of a lifetime and he plays it accordingly; to the hilt. There have been times throughout his career that one might have thought he would never be able to top himself and in "Wolf of Wall Street" he sets the bar even higher for future endeavors.

He has never taken more risks and looked more confident taking them. His execution is fearless, a tightrope of comedic brilliance and dramatic tension. In a film era that is seeing fewer and fewer landmark roles and performances, DiCaprio can claim his own indelible mark as Jordan Belfort.

He never misses, culminating in a performance that is absolutely flawless. Good actors create a believable character. Great actors make viewers forget they are creating one and DiCaprio does just that as Belfort.

He is not alone. The supporting cast more than rises to the occasion. Matthew McConaughey strikes the match that sets “Wolf” ablaze. His monologue (the best of 2013) near the beginning of the film offers a stellar example of his breadth as an actor.

His turn is so crucial in its significance to the movie that it truly merited Oscar recognition alongside his work in “Dallas Buyers Club”, making 2013 a year he should have been acknowledged in both the Supporting and Lead categories.

As Belfort’s feisty wife Naomi, Margot Robbie is a revelation. At just 23-years-old when "Wolf" was filmed, she carries herself with the poise of an actress triple her age; holding her own against DiCaprio and confidently shining every moment she is on-screen.

As “The Duchess” she holds court, especially in one particularly electrifying scene with DiCaprio, in which she exerts her female prowess. It is a scene of empowerment most will dismiss or simply miss altogether, but it is no less powerful or viscerally evocative.

As Naomi, Robbie deftly portrays the various layers of her character’s journey from mistress to mother, and she is convincing at every turn. It is a performance that leaves no doubt she is a rising actress, we will be watching for years to come.  

Elsewhere, Jonah Hill gives a career-best performance as the hyper Donny Azoff, pulling a marvelous disappearing act as Belfort’s loony right-hand man. Making an equally memorable turn alongside them all is Jon Bernthal, who brings a mesmeric bent to his portrayal of raging hot head, Brad. His zeal is as contagious as it is crucial to giving "Wolf" the bite that counters his co-stars bark.

After sustaining the scrutiny of multiple viewings there are no qualms in proclaiming that “The Wolf of Wall Street” is a masterpiece, a term used with no flippancy when declaring so. There is not a dull moment, an out-of-place piece of dialogue or a bad performance to be found in this wild ride and that is not something you can say about many movies, let alone a 3-hour one about Wall Street. Rating: 10/10

[Featured Images by Paramount Pictures]

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