I thought my eyes would pop out of my head! The WOLF OF WALL STREET left me howling, jaw on the floor, more than once. This fantastically over the top, true story of 8o’s-style greed from Martin Scorsese, plays like CALIGULA on Wall Street, laced with “coke, testosterone, and bodily fluids.” Leonardo DiCaprio grabs and holds our attention for three hours as the real life Jordan Belfort a lowly, penny stock broker who scales the Dow Jones and makes a fortune, arriving at the top of the heap where more is definitely more.
Along the way he meets his partners in accumulation, in this case, five uneducated slobs with talent– including Jonah Hill as Donnie Azoff– a brilliant nut job with a knack for the sale. Scorsese and screenwriter Terence Winter do a great job of stopping the action and factoring all the wheeling and dealing down to the lowest common denominator so that even the math-challenged among us get the drift: “Move the money from your client’s pocket to your pocket.” Period.
Everyone and everything in the movie is commodified and consumed: women, clients, colleagues. Scorsese saturates us in the experience, scene after scene, with decadent montages of gluttonous excess. Sex is a metaphor for every transaction, and we watch as DiCaprio repeatedly acts out his consummation of the deal in rooms full of voyeuristic traders, while some poor schnook on the other end of the line happily gets the shaft. I laughed and screamed in utter disbelief!
There are scenes that go on forever; Scorsese leaves the camera rolling way past when another director might have yelled “cut.” Was it to see how far he and his actors could go? They went all the way. There’s a fever dream of a sequence that begins in a country club and ends up with the Heimlich maneuver that beggars description. There’s an extended, perfectly calibrated cat and mouse encounter with a cagey, boy scout-faced FBI agent (Kyle Chandler) that adds some texture to this single-minded plot; there’s Margot Robbie as Belfort’s wife so blondly beautiful, it’s hard to imagine men not expiring at the sight of her; and there’s one early scene with Matthew McConaughey so kooky and venal, he’s just got to walk away with the Oscar for best supporting actor.
Some people say this isn’t how it was. Some say the film is indulgent, repetitive, short on complexity. I don’t care. What I got was full-on immersion in a world of excess, and Scorsese puts us there, right in the filthy-rich middle of it. I understood the lure, the addiction, the sheer adrenaline rush and ride. Scorsese also tackles the “Why.” Why, when you have a yacht with a helicopter on top, when you have your cake and are eating it and everyone else’s too, do you have to have more? Well, just because you can, and because you don’t want anyone to tell you–you can’t. As I recall the 80’s, that’s pretty accurate.