After a month of tinsel, holiday traveling and Jesus’ birthday, I’m exhausted. With at least four more nomination movies left to see and a Top 10 list looming, these are tense times for film critics. I felt as though I needed a boost, a John Travolta adrenaline shot right to the heart, Pulp Fiction style. Lucky for me, Wolf of Wall Street is filmmaking cocaine, ground up by a master director, loaded through a tightly wound script and snorted whole by a freewheeling Leonardo DeCaprio. There’s not much to remember once the high comes down, but it’s an exhilarating ride while you’re on it.
DeCaprio plays Jordan Belfort, an ambitious young stockbroker riding the coattails of 80’s financial extravagance. After an initiation into the world of sex, drugs and market reports by a longtime stock slinger (Matthew McConaughey), he hires a few of his hometown buddies and starts his own investment firm. What follows is a wild, darkly funny binge thought the best and worst of Wall Street excess.
In the lead, DeCaprio is unhinged and explosive as the fictional depiction of the real life Belfort. The entire performance reminded me of a runaway train. The car may be blasting along at breakneck speed, but I’m expecting it to teeter off the rails at any minute. Luckily, DeCaprio exhibits occasional restraint as he blitzes his way through the well penned yet over-written screenplay, important when everything is so damn excessive.
And wow, is it ever. Full of graphic sex, drug binges and more f-bombs than any other non-documentary film in the history of cinema, Wolf of Wall Street is an overpowering experience. It’s a three hour roller coaster, full of cringe inducing humor and drug addled madness. When traveling at full speed, everything clicks along fine. Sadly, the car has to slow down at some point and when it does, the dullness of the track becomes exposed. Many of the quieter moments fall flat due to paper thin characters, grinding the movie to a screeching halt. The scene where DeCaprio takes outdated Quaaludes is the biggest offender. Watching him crawl, drawl and moan for nearly fifteen minutes towards a who cares climax was tensionless and downright painful.
Of course, nothing exceeds like excess and when life in the broker bullpen is rocking, you rock right along with it. The direction is classic Scorsese with plenty of fourth wall smashing, heavy voiceover and expertly plotted cinematography. My brother once called Shutter Island “well-made schlock” and while I can’t say the same for Wolf, we’re in the same ballpark. Scorsese has never and will never make a bad looking film but for all of his skill, he can’t hide characters so thin and stereotypical, they more resemble bad cartoon characters than real people. The cast may be electric and fun but they are rarely interesting.
In the opening, I referred to this as the “Corporate Goodfellas” and for good reason. They are essentially the same movie and as a result, have some of the same problems. With a similar story arc, recycled characters and a protagonist who’s really Henry Hill with a bank account, Wolf of Wall Street moves at twice the speed of the 1990 classic with half the depth. Knocks aside, Scorsese’s latest is highly entertaining if you’re willing to go the three hour distance and can stomach the extreme language, nudity and deliciously offensive humor. There’s nothing to think about later and you may have a hangover headache when the credits roll, but it’s a good time out nonetheless.
Score : 8/10
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Jersey born, New York based and Austin bound, Bill Tucker is a writer of short fiction, film reviews and articles across a variety of media. He currently writes bi-monthly reviews for Pantheon Magazine and his micro fiction story, K, was recently accepted for publication in Solarcide’s flash fiction compilation, Flash Me. When not writing, he works as an IT Trainer for a fashion software company. Check out more of his work atwww.thesurrealityproject.com.