"I'm never going to eat at Benihana again. I don't care whose birthday it is."
Don't listen to the old adage. According to Jordan Belfort, money can buy you happiness. And boats. And mansions. And prostitutes. And a hell of a lot of drugs. Such is the life of Belfort, the self-made millionaire who swindled thousands out of their funds using a loophole in the New York Stock Exchange.
It's 1987, and Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is set to make his mark on Wall street. On his first of the job, Belfort learns the ropes from his boss, Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey). Hanna imparts various wisdoms of the job: drink alcohol throughout the day, snort mountains of cocaine, and masturbate frequently. Clients be damned, the name of the game is personal wealth. Belfort's career beginnings gets off to an inauspicious start as it coincides with the infamous, "Black Monday." Belfort is let go, but it's not long before he's used the information he's obtained to start his own start up company with a ragtag group of friends and colleagues.
One of which is Donny Azoff, an abrasive schmuck who approaches Belfort while he's eating, asking him how much he makes monthly. Belfort is more than happy to oblige, providing a pay stub to Azoff's gaping face. Azoff quits his furniture sales job immediately. Azoff is played by Jonah Hill. He's doughy and wearing fake teeth (I think), and Hill delivers his lines like a young, queerer Marlon Brando. Belfort and Azoff have an affinity for one another that is genuine. A relationship that starts with them sharing a crack pipe in the back of a seedy restaurant morphs into one driven by love and affection.
Each introduced character is unique, but shares the same energy. Margot Robbie--who stars as Belfort's second wife--is particularly fetching. After seeing some of the stunts that these men and women take part, I had to keep reminding myself that this all actually happened. The majority of the scenes are as jacked up as Belfort after a handful of Quaaludes. Director Martin Scorsese injects excitement intravenously, a nonstop barrage of in-your-face characters doing unthinkable things.
I was amazed by how funny the film is. And I mean the LOL variety. There's a scene in particular by DiCaprio which is some of the most convincing physical comedy in recent memory. After ingesting some Lemmons--a souped up, now defunct brand of Quaaludes--DiCaprio gets completely fucked up and loses all control of his motor functions. In his words, it's his "Cerebral Palsy phase." He's then forced to make it down some stairs, climb into his Lamborghini, and drive back to his house and confront Azoff after an ill-advised phone call. Really brilliant work.
The film is of course carried by the mammoth talents of Leonardo DiCaprio. A bevy of critics have joined in chorus to claim that this is his crowning achievement. I doubt DiCaprio cares about such praise. He's the ultimate professional, and really goes for broke. Belfort is a hugely despicable presence, but you can't keep your eyes off of him. Both for DiCaprio's performance, and the fact that Belfort could literally do anything at anytime. A business concludes with tossing helmeted dwarves at an enormous target; a flight to Las Vegas which basically fronted a massive orgy; Belfort and co. ride on a group of hired French maids like horses; a topless male band waltzes into an office blaring instruments, followed by a bevy of naked, cheering women. Only one of these stories is false.
The film is shot with a type of electricity that’s uncommon with any director, let alone a gentleman that’s 71-years-old. Martin Scorsese has said that his film career is slowing down, and that’s a real shame. Forget about his past successes, which are many. Scorsese really goes absolutely full throttle, never shying away from any would-be controversial scenes. There is drug use, profanity, and nudity aplenty; WOLF is a three-hour long petrie dish of debauchery. There is some idiocy floating around, where some talking heads are accusing WOLF of putting some rose colored glasses on the Belfort’s lurid chronicle. This couldn’t be further from the truth. WOLF, and by contact, Scorsese never serves to idolize Belfort’s actions, merely highlight them to the masses. Belfort is a terrible human being, no doubt, but the man's polarization makes for great viewing.
Throughout the film, Belfort breaks the wall, letting the audience know about his life and his intentions. Scorsese creates a real intimacy, forcing us to be involved in the daily happenstances. He wants us to caress every naked body, and feel the buzz from every high. Belfort's ego is even larger than his vast fortune. His tens of millions of dollars creates a aura of invincibility, but it's as permeable as a sieve. Belfort's power resides in his ability to sell a product, and in that sense, he's as successful as they come. Set aside the wealth he pilfered, he's now a best selling author and now has a celebrated film to add to his triumphs. I do feel a slight apprehension assisting in the new enterprises of a convicted criminal, but I wonder what I would do if everything I ever wanted was instantly available. I'd like to think I'd do the right thing, but who knows what type of animal I'd turn into.