When I think of great actor-director collaborations, one of the first ones that come to mind is the team of Leonardo DiCaprio and director Martin Scorsese. Over the past decade since they first worked with each other, their collaboration has resulted in many terrific films that would become one of the best of their respective years (GANGS OF NEW YORK, THE AVIATOR, THE DEPARTED and SHUTTER ISLAND). Now they back to bring us their 5th film together THE WOLF OF WALL STREET. Is this film just as great as their previous collaborations? You’re damn right it was!
The film tells the true story of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), a young man who dreams of becoming a wealthy stockbroker on Wall Street. However his dreams are shattered when he loses job after the Black Monday crash in 1987. While looking for a new job, he comes across a small firm that deals with penny stocks for average working class people. After working with them for a while Belfort decides to go start his own firm with the help of his neighbour Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) and drug dealing childhood friends, so they make money from doing illegal things on the stock market. Within a few short years, his firm becomes a billion dollar empire and his life becomes an endless party of crime, drugs and sex. But things change for Belfort when F.B.I. Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) starts investigating him and his company.
I must admit I haven’t read the memoir of the same name by Jordan Belfort, so I honestly didn’t know what to expect since I knew little about his life story. But I was still very interested in checking it out regardless since it is the 5th film that both Leonardo DiCaprio and director Martin Scorsese have made together. Now having seen the film, I can tell you that this is another home run for the both of them. This was really engaging, entertaining, shocking, un-PC and absolutely hilarious 3 hour dark comedy that makes recent similarly themed films about the dark side of the American dream look tame by comparison. For a man who is now in his early 70’s, Scorsese continues to shows that he is still a master when it comes to filmmaking. He does a fantastic job once again with his direction and he gives the film an energy that I think that most young directors today wouldn’t be able to match today, this is a pure Scorsese film through and through. Also what makes this one stand out among his most recent films, is that it’s really hilarious. Plus It shows that he isn’t afraid to drive into the dark amoral aspects of both the characters and story. I know that there are people out there who feel that it glorifies the sleazy lifestyles of its characters, but for me personally I don’t think it does at all. The film does a great job by showing us the dark, despicable and disturbing sides of these characters that we are disgusted by their actions, while at the same time still making them compelling to watch. This is definitely due to both Scorsese and screenwriter Terence Winter’s terrific script. Plus it also helps that the film has Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role as well.
While I’ve been a fan of DiCaprio since the early days but I must admit that ever since he started working with Scorsese, I think he really has stepped up his game and has become one of the best actors working today. With each collaboration with Scorsese, he has gotten better and better and on this film, it was no exception. In fact I would say that DiCaprio gives with a shread of doubt in my mind, the absolute greatest performance of his career so far in this film. He goes at this role with 110% and was absolutely electrifying from start to finish. It’s definitely the type of performance that is worthy of an Oscar. Plus he even gets to show his comedic side as well (there is a scene of him and Jonah Hill taking Quaaludes that may be one of the funniest scenes that I’ve seen in a while). Plus he is backed up by a great supporting cast as well (Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Joanna Lumley and Jean Dujardin were all really good) but the stand outs were definitely Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey and Aussie newcomer Margot Robbie. While his role as “Donnie Azoff” is bit of a variation of other roles we’ve seen him play before, but Hill completely dives into this role and gives a really good job nonetheless. He has great onscreen chemistry with DiCaprio and they have many great scenes together. McConaughey (whose role is a basically an extended cameo) continues his career reinvention with his scene stealing role. But the one who impressed me the most was upcoming Aussie actress Robbie, who gave a terrific performance as “Naomi”. She is definitely going to be the next big thing soon. Also the cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto, the editing by Scorsese’s long-time editor Thelma Schoonmaker was, while a little rough around the edges, as always, the soundtrack was absolutely fantastic and I loved the final shot that the film ends on.
Now in terms of negatives, I do have a couple of problems with the film. The main one being, and it’s one that stops me from giving it a full 5 star rating, is that it is too long. I’ve heard from a lot of people who felt that 3 hour running time went by really fast but for me while I was still really engaged by the film, I started to feel the length of it just around the 2 hour mark. Some scenes seemed to either feel a bit repetitive or drag on for way too long and I think if the Scorsese cut some of it out, it would be a tighter film (I think it would better if it was 2.5 hours instead). Also there were some characters that I felt weren’t really needed and they could have easily had been cut from the film as well (Jon Favreau’s role is one in particular since his character adds nothing to the story). Plus the tonally shifts from being comedic to being really serious did come off feeling a bit jarring at times.
Overall while THE WOLF OF WALL STREET does have a couple of flaws that stop it from being another Scorsese masterpiece to me, but it still an absolutely terrific film that I engaged by from beginning to end. It won’t be for everyone (I understand most people being turned off by all the debauchery and un-PC elements that happen in the film, even I was little shocked how far it went) but if you’re a big fan of either Scorsese and DiCaprio (or even their previous collaborations together), it is definitely worth checking out as well. Hopefully you’ll be just as engaged and entertained by it as I was.
*UPDATE 26/02/14: I rewatched the film again since I first saw it, and I absolutely loved it much more on the 2nd watch! The problems I had with it the first time, didn’t bother me at all on this one. It truly is a fantastic film and now I’m going to change my rating from 4.5/5 to 5/5*
– Bede Jermyn