Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio, who earned his fourth Oscar nomination) built his empire from the ground up. He took a job as pond scum on Wall Street, then one selling penny stocks, then opened his own brokerage house, which grew into Stratton Oakmont, where he started making enough “fun coupons” to purchase a mansion, multiple cars, a few horses and a yacht.
His key partner is giddy, Chiclet-toothed Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill, who earned his second Oscar nod). His wife is sexy blonde model Naomi (Margot Robbie). His main trouble is FBI agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler). His overseas source is Switzerland-based banker Jean-Jacques Saure (Jean Dujardin). His team is “young, hungry and stupid.” His goal is and always will be the almighty dollar.
Belfort cares about few, womanizes many, can see himself at nowhere but the top and is, in two words, an asshole. Does he care? Probably not. But he’s exactly the sort of person that makes people hate the idea of greed.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is a tale of greed, money, sex, drugs and whatever else Jordan feels like partaking in. And THE WOLF OF WALL STREET as a whole is, like its plot and characters, a demonstration of excess. That’s how you can explain the three-hour runtime (it’s now Scorsese’s longest) and the FPM (figure it out) count of 3.16 (a record for a non-documentary).
Martin Scorsese’s latest has the style and themes of GOODFELLAS and the black humor of AFTER HOURS. It also has a lot of Quaaludes. It should be a lethal combination, but THE WOLF OF WALL STREET turns out to be one of the director’s most ambitious and satisfying films, showing the exhausting rise and fall of a sociopath while nailing every joke it constructs. (And, despite what you may typically expect from Scorsese, the film is filled with humor, most notably the scene in which Belfort, doped on Lemmons, struggles to get to the steering wheel, a moment that shows DiCaprio is capable of hysterical physical comedy.)
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is host to plenty of despicable men, but it has to be part comedy to show just how easy it is to be entertained by all of Belfort’s excesses—and with all of the energy and edge it has, we are. And because of the way the film is crafted, we don’t realize until it’s all over that a director in his seventies and an actor who at least partially admires Belfort are teaching us a lesson about the dangers we’ve been enjoying.