There is something oddly compelling about the characters at the heart of Martin Scorsese’s latest, The Wolf of Wall Street. Leonardo DiCaprio plays the real life financial tycoon Jordan Belfort, who spent two dozen months in federal prison for fraud. Scorsese’s movie chronicles the wild and debaucherous ride that put him there. What’s crazy is how the audience pulls for him every step of the way, and it's thanks largely to the firestorm of a performance given by DiCaprio.
DiCaprio is an Oscar-nominated actor who most would agree is a supreme talent. Yet, he gives a career best performance, even teased in The Wolf of Wall Street trailer, which commands the viewers’ firm and attentive attention for exactly three hours. Yes, Scorsese’s film clocks in at a minute under three hours, but due to the filmmaker's storytelling power, a powerful script based on Belfort’s book by Terence Winter, and a cast who delivers on such a high level, it never feels long at all. In fact, when the credits rolled, we wanted to spend more time with these cats.
The Wolf of Wall Street takes us to the beginnings of Belfort’s rise. He lands on Wall Street as a wide-eyed 22-year-old ready to make his mark and his fortune. Belfort’s first job is with a firm that has him working for Matthew McConaughey’s Mark Hanna. All he needs to know about making it in the stock trading biz, he learns from Hanna. But, when the October 1987 crash hits, Belfort loses his job.
How he responds is truly what sets the hurricane that is The Wolf of Wall Street into motion. Belfort scores a job pushing penny stocks on those who probably can’t afford it. He meets Jonah Hill’s Donnie Azoff and the two start their own company where they up the ante. Why just sell penny stocks to small-time investors when with the talent these guys possess with sales, they can go after big fish with questionable stocks where the investor is none the wiser? And… we’re off, and as DiCaprio says in the full The Wolf of Wall Street movie trailer, “is this legal?” Not exactly!
Scorsese keeps a manic pace throughout the film, which is no easy task at three hours in length. It’s a huge story he tackles with The Wolf of Wall Street and it is a complete and utter twisted triumph. And as the filmmaker likes to do, there seems to be a soundtrack song for every moment, and it is glorious. He keeps you on the edge of your seat as what is witnessed feels like a giant party that is raging out of control, only you have no idea when (or how) it will end. Yes, you know Belfort is sent off to jail. But as he dodges bullet after bullet, the way in which Kyle Chandler’s agent will nail him is a fascinating mystery. In fact, his downfall is more a study in ego than it is in legality.
Our The Wolf of Wall Street review finds the film utterly astounding. It has a firm place on our Top 10 of 2013 and is absolutely the best DiCaprio-Scorsese collaboration of the five they’ve done. Is it Best Picture material? Absolutely, yes.