Wednesday, December 25, 2013
Opening today at a multiplex near you:
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
(Dir. Martin Scorsese, 2013)
While last year’s Oscar winning ARGO summoned the ‘70s in its opening moments by using the old bright red Warner Brothers logo, and the recent release of AMERICAN HUSTLE did the same by way of a vintage Columbia Studios logo, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, just goes with the current Paramount Pictures silver mountain design, proving upfront that it doesn’t need any help bringing the retro.
Martin Scorsese’s 23rd film, and fifth with Leonardo DiCaprio, nails the rampant excess of the ‘80s greed era with such a fearlessly funny, and raunchy as Hell glee that it makes Oliver Stone’s 1988 insider trading spectacle WALL STREET look like Sesame Street.
DiCaprio portrays Jordan Belfort, an ambitious Bronx-born stockbroker (or more accurately Stock swindler), who hit it rich in his ‘20s by founding the Long Island firm Stratton Oakmont. As our protagonist puts it in voice-over narration (and at times breaking the fourth wall asides to the audience): “The year I turned 26, I made 49 million dollars as the head of my own brokerage firm…which really pissed me off because it was three shy of a million a week.”
DiCaprio’s Belfort also tells us that he gambles “like a degenerate,” screws scores of hookers, has three different federal agencies looking to indict him, and, as if it’s the most important part of his personality, that he really loves drugs (a large mix of Quaaludes, Xanax, pot, and cocaine make up his daily regimen).
As DiCaprio’s partner in white collar crime and coke, Jonah Hill plays Donny Azoff (name changed to protect the guilty Danny Porush). Hill, with blindingly white capped teeth and funnier than he’s ever been, could be seen as the Joe Pesci to DiCaprio’s Ray Liotta if we were going to go down the GOODFELLAS goes to Wall Street route that many critics will no doubt take.
We witness DiCaprio’s corrupt character’s rise and fall by way of a furious pace provided by Scorsese’s longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker. It’s such an electrifying ride that it never drags or feels like it’s anywhere close to its actual length (it’s just under 3 hours at 179 minutes). In fact, I’m seriously hoping the Blu ray/DVD release features the four hour cut that’s been reported).
Everybody in the cast shines especially Matthew McConaughey in a short but sweet role as a mentor to DiCaprio who extols the virtues of jerking off, Kyle Chandler as a hard-nosed FBI agent looking to bust DiCaprio, Rob Reiner in an amusing performance as DiCaprio’s father who affects a fake British accent when speaking on the phone, THE ARTIST’s Jean Dujardin suavely playing a Swiss banker, The Walking Dead's Jon Bernthal as a tough guy cronie, and newcomer blonde bombshell Margot Robbie as DiCaprio’s former model wife.
Terence Winter’s Screenplay, based on Belfort’s book of the same name, is full of sharp dialogue (except when the characters are all coked up then it’s appropriately sloppy), plus obvious but inevitable references to Gordon Gekko, THE GODFATHER, and Thomas Wolfe’s 1987 novel “The Bonfire of the Vanities” (let's just forget the awful movie version) because Belfort, of course, considers himself a “Master of the Universe.”
The amped-up soundtrack is dead on as well with classic blues by the likes of John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, and Elmore James rubbing up alongside Devo, Cypress Hill, and Sir Mix-A-lot (Scorsese restrained himself this time and included no Stones tracks), all under the supervision of another longtime Scorsese collaborator, The Band’s Robbie Robertson, who serves as executive music producer.
New to the Scorsese team is cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, ARGO) who captures in stunning tracking shots the swaggering sweep of its subject’s debauched lifestyle.
A stand-out sequence involving an DiCaprio, f-ed up beyond belief on a massive amount of Quaaludes having to crawl back to his car parked right outside at a country club reaches surreal heights of hilarity due in no small part to Prieto’s keen camera eye.
While I liked how David O’ Russell’s AMERICAN HUSTLE does a great job scamming folks into thinking they’re watching a Scorsese film, it’s so much more intoxicating to see the real thing.
At 71, Scorsese proves that he can still make master class cinema as THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is the director and DiCaprio’s finest film together, one that's much more deserving of a Best Picture Oscar than 2005’s THE DEPARTED, and I say that having really loved that movie.
Sure, WOLF covers similar ground to Scorsese's GOODFELLAS and CASINO in its wild depiction of money being the ultimate aphrodisiac, but its outlandish verve and gutsy-as-all-get-out attitude make it yet another major Marty masterpiece – a feast of a film that I can’t wait to go back to for a second helping.