Monday, December 30, 2013


The Wolf of Wall Street

Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Terence Winter

     Martin Scorsese has not lost a step and that is brought to full, insanely, brilliant effect with his bacchanalian and drug induced showstopper The Wolf of Wall Street. Wow, this film is a non-stop piece of cinema like only Scorsese can do. A cross and conclusion of a somewhat trilogy about men behaving badly, that includes the masterpiece Goodfellas and the lesser, but still wonderful Casino. An orgiastic story of excess, drugs, alcohol, sex and a potent critique on the greed obsessed and over controlling one percent in the United States. Not to mention a fun as hell, entertaining ride of down right unlikeable individuals. A film that is a swift kick to the head, stomach and whole body that exemplifies the me first generation of the 90s and 00s in all its disgusting ways. This film is so amazing and entertaining, but also so unbelievably important. A film that is a three hour ride of debauchery, greed and utter inhumanity. Without a doubt the best film of the year and one Scorsese's finest.
     Like I mentioned before, this film does not contain one likable character at all. What I am writing is of the main characters and the majority of people in the Wall Street game. The embellished, real life story of Jordan Belfort, adapted from his autobiography of the same title by "The Sopranos" writer Terence Winter. Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) gets off the bus on Wall Street and gets a low level job taking and making phone calls. He wants a career in the stock business, but mainly in the making money any way I can business. He works with Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), who helps train Jordan in the ways of the 80s stock market. Masturbate twice a day, do cocaine to stay focused and sell, sell, sell whatever way you can. Do what you have to do to stay awake and focused. McConaughey, who is just in a couple scenes in the beginning of the film, really sets the tone for the rest of the film. This is a "fuck you, pay me" world and us stock brokers do not give a shit about anything but dollar signs, drugs and hookers. Stay on top of the game, screw anyone over, anyway you can and live like a rock star. In these moments,  McConaughey, beating his chest and humming like a madman, that is just another great, in a series of great turns from him, sets the young eyed, eager Belfort on his path to debauchery. After this, Belfort becomes nothing but a greedy, worthless human being.
     The stock market crash of 1987 causes Jordan to seek employment elsewhere. His wife Teresa (Cristin Milioti) suggest selling her engagement ring, but Belfort will have none of it. He is going to make it. He gets a low level job working in Long Island, selling penny stocks. He shows these uninspired stock brokers how to sell and make money off nothing stocks. Stocks that have no value. Jordan is a salesman and learns that you can sell anything to anybody with the right attitude and script. A valid point is made about the U.S. stock market culture here. Who gives a shit about you? I am going to use and abuse you and steal every cent I can get from your dumbass. This is that terrible vibe and reality from the drug induced stock market and Wall Street culture of the 80s and 90s that Scorsese delivers with such ease and impact. We begin to see that Jordan is all about himself and the money. No care for anyone else but himself and the crew he is about to group together to make mad amounts of cash.
     Belfort starts his stock company Stratton Oakmont. His co-conspirator is the fake looking teethed, cousin marrying Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill). A New York Jew that is just as greedy and evil as Belfort. The company gets off the ground fast and, with the assistance of Belfort's friends Nicky 'Rugrat' Koskoff (P.J. Byrne), Chester Ming (Kenneth Choi), Robbie 'Pinhead' Feinberg (Brian Sacca) and Alden 'Sea Otter' Kupferberg (Henry Zebrowski), the wild, cocaine and, their beloved drug of choice quaaludes, induced crazy ass ride begins. The company is a huge success. Belfort is known all over the Wall Street circles and the sex and drugs are non-stop. Not to mention the money that is coming in from Belfort's script of never letting anyone off the phone until the sale is complete. These guys are in their 20s and making millions of dollars off the backs of people making dumb choices in buying these stupid penny stocks. Everybody wants to get rich quick without any honesty in it. Scorsese is great in showing this profoundly in this film. These men are reckless as hell and have little, to no class. Shave a woman co-workers head in front of the whole office for ten grand. Have a contest of throwing little people at velcro bullseye board. Sex, sex, sex in the office. Drugs, drugs, drugs in the office. No care in the world. Just keep the money coming in. This is explicitly shown throughout the film and works astutely from the master Scorsese.
     Eventually, the greed and drugs catch up to Belfort and Azoff. Belfort, who divorces his wife for the trophy, beautiful blonde woman Naomi (Margot Robbie), does not stop him at all. It is a conquest to sleep with the most hookers. There is a scene where he describes the three levels of quality prostitutes. A goal of doing the most drugs, especially the quaaludes. A luxury to have the biggest house, the most expensive clothes and cars and not giving two cents about anyone else but themselves. This comes to a halt when Belfort and his company get into securities fraud, money laundering and pure on idiocy. The beautiful thing Scorsese and Winter do here, is that they do not once soften the blow or feel any sympathy for these despicable characters. They pummel you with sex, drugs and money until you cannot take it anymore, but it really brings home the reality of the life these men lived. The lives they destroyed and the inhumanity of it all. Also, this is not a drama at all. The genius of Scorsese is that they have made one of the best dark comedies about greed, drug over usage, sex and the me first attitudes of the wealthy, young stock brokers and the rich one percent of all-time.
     This film is a three-hour, entertaining as hell, comedic thrill ride of the highest art form. Scorsese, 71 now, seems like a kid in a candy store with this material. Making a metaphor on the rich, those one percent wealthy bastards and the me first generation that has little remorse for anyone, much less themselves. Scorsese is in full on Goodfellas, Mean Streets, Casino mode here, but more perverse and with not an ounce of empathy or compassion for these characters. The Wolf of Wall Street is not for everyone, but should be. The content is serious and goes to some disturbing and dark places. It presents how inhumane and immoral these individuals were, and how corrupt their business and lives were. The moral decay of the wealthy, get rich quick crowd, that abused the hell out of everything. It was fantasy ride that was real and had no reason for slowing down. Dark, greedy, slimy and unlikable human beings. This is not to say that this film is not funny as hell also. DiCaprio and Hill are insanely hilarious in this film. There were plenty of scenes where I was laughing so hard I was crying. The big drug scene, in its delivery and acting, is one of the best things Scorsese has ever done. I wont give anything away, but everything that DiCaprio and Hill do is brilliant and uproariously funny. It is not as good as the helicopters and cocaine scene in Goodfellas, but it is damn close.
     The acting in this film is top notch. DiCaprio gives the finest performance of his career. It is a shame that he will most likely not get an Academy Award nomination because the old softies in the Academy will not get this film and find his character to be too much of a prick. DiCaprio goes all out in this film. You can tell he is willing do whatever for Scorsese and vice versa. This, their fifth movie together, is the best thing they have done together. DiCaprio does it all, sex, drugs, physical comedy. He is spot on and perfect in this film. The voice over narration, the breaking of the fourth wall is excellent. It adds a personal note, but still at distance due to the insanity being displayed. Much Ray Liotta's narration and fourth wall breaking in Goodfellas. It puts the audience in the scene, in the world, but Belfort also does not explain much, because it is all about the party. The effect. The feel. The sex and drugs. Do not try to understand the serious, concrete details, because we did not. Just know this shit really happened and we got away with for awhile. Know that we had you by the balls and never let go until we did not any better. We thought we were invincible, but the drugs do not last forever.
    And, Jonah Hill shows his acting chops, even more than his wonderful turn in Bennet Miller's Moneyball. The fake teeth help, but he is amazing with DiCaprio and they deliver and then some. He deserves all the accolades in the world. Funny, but with a lot of depth. He really shows how talented of an actor he really is. I also have to give a lot of respect for 23 year-old Australian actress Margot Robbie. She nails the New York/New Jersey accent down perfectly and goes toe-to-toe with DiCaprio's Belfort in every scene. She is not likable. She spends that money and knows how it is coming in, but eventually she cannot take it anymore and wants to protect their children. She is fantastic, sultry and tough.
    The supporting cast is great as well. As I mentioned before, McConaughey is perfect in his early cameo and nails every line. Kyle Chandler plays the FBI agent investigating Belfort and he and DiCaprio have a wonderful, hilarious scene on Belfort's yacht 'Naomi,' named after his wife. Spike Jonze has a great cameo as the owner of the penny stock brokerage on Long Island. Another real standout is Rob Reiner, as the highly agitated father of Jordan, Max. Great stuff from the director-actor, and great to see him playing someone with such frustration and anger. Funny.
    I also cannot complete this assessment without mentioning Scorsese's long time editor Thelma Schoonmaker. They are inseparable and work together so precisely. She makes his movies come home and made The Wolf of Wall Street come as lean as possible. They made this film roll form opening to closing shot. It is a collaboration that is legendary and they also know how to use music so perfectly. There, as in many of Scorsese films, has to be over fifty songs used throughout the film. Edited and used precisely at the right moment. Never over done. Scorsese is the best at using music in a film and always will be. Credit to cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, whose constantly engaging and moving camera syncs accurately with the highly kinetic energy of this film. And, Terence Winter's energetic, hardcore script is a perfect combination with Scorsese's rapid style. Words and speeches flow with ease and are performed with perfection.
     Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street is the best film I have seen in 2013. This film should easily be one of the ten finalists for Best Picture and get noms for director, actor, supporting actor, editing and writing. It won't because of the annoying, insanely stupid old codgers in the Academy. They just do not get it. The Wolf of Wall Street is a non-stop party of greed, debauchery and an open, obvious critique of the evil, me first jerks that have ruined so many lives in America. A film that is all about men behaving really badly and not having any compassion or respect for woman, money or themselves. A film that contains some of the finest performances of the year and an absolute career best turn from Leonardo DiCaprio. Scorsese has made one of his finest films and one of his most important. It might take some back to the hard partying days of their youth and might turn some, many, away, but the value and craftsmanship behind it is of the highest order. A wild, three hour romp of cinematic ecstasy and continued proof that Scorsese is the greatest living filmmaker in the world.

Photo credit by IMDB.

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