Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, from his rise to a wealthy stockbroker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government.
Year 2, Film #46
THE REVIEW: Films based on a true story and biopics are two different kinds of movies and each have their own draws and setbacks. The Wolf of Wall Street is very much a biopic, or a biographical film. It follows the life of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) from his start as a stock broker on Wall Street to the present day and does so in an incredibly detailed 179 minute runtime, the longest of Martin Scorsese’s films. Unlike Scorsese’s Goodfellas, which also follows a similar formula of beginning-to-present day of Henry Hill — who is a mobster instead of a stock broker — I found The Wolf of Wall Street to not be as boring or seem to drag on as much, and was at many times highly entertaining.
When looking at Scorsese’s career, most people point to Goodfellas as one of his best films, something I disagree with. I’ve only seen the film once a few years ago but I clearly remember not being all that impressed. While only 146 minutes long by the time I got halfway through I found my attention wandering and wondering when the film would be over; never a good sign. The reason I mention this is to provide a baseline for my thoughts on The Wolf of Wall Street because the two films are quite similar. Both are biopics about men — one in organized crime, another in finance — who seek wealth and power, develop drug addictions, sought after by the FBI, and wind up in similar situations. But as I’ve already said, I found The Wolf of Wall Street actually entertained me and kept me engaged and focus for the entire three hours. Why is that?
The films doesn’t take itself very seriously and has quite a cheerful feeling to it. While I don’t understand why it was nominated for Best Musical or Comedy at this year’s Golden Globe awards — it’s funny, but it’s by no means a comedy, even a black comedy — this carefree feeling seems very apt for the story that is being told. Jordan Belfort and everyone else in the film are enjoying themselves. They’re making money hand over fist, imbibing obscene amounts of alcohol, consuming large quantities of drugs, and getting laid every five minutes. Sure the FBI comes investigating every so often and they have to worry about hiding their illegal activities, but for the most part, they’re having fun and that attitude is portrayed very well to the audience. Scorsese does a great job here of not only filming something we want to watch, but film it in such a way that we feel the same way the characters do.
Another element that contributes to this is the superb acting from the entire cast; there isn’t a single bad egg in the bunch. Some names of note are Matthew McConaughey who plays Mark Hanna, Belfort’s first boss, and only appears briefly in the beginning of the film, Jonah Hill who plays Donnie Azoff, friends of Belfort, and is seen throughout the film with his abnormally white teeth, and Kyle Chandler who plays FBI Agent Greg Coleman. Perhaps one of the most important things to realize, and a good sign for the film, is that even though there is a large amount of characters, each one is very distinct and identifiable. You never have to struggle to remember who’s who or what their role is; once you meet everyone for the first time, they stick with you. The one deserving the most recognition however has to be Leonardo DiCaprio for his portrayal of Jordan Belfort. There’s been a lot of Oscar talk about him in recent years (although he’s only been nominated three times) and The Wolf of Wall Street will certainly keep people talking. Just the sheer volume and range his character goes through in the movie is impressive and DiCaprio is able to keep up with all the twists and turns. Looking at the other hopefuls in this year’s awards season, DiCaprio might not take home the win, again, but he should be a shoe-in for another nomination.
The film is by no means perfect though. A big inherent drawback to most biopics is that, most of the time, nothing really happens. The Wolf of Wall Street is just a visualization of Jordan Belfort’s life. He did lead an interesting life full of money, sex, and drugs but that’s only exciting for a scene-by-scene basis. When looking at the movie as a whole, not much really happens. There isn’t that big of a change that occurs, no big motivator or transformation occurs. While you’re not necessarily left with the feeling of, “What did I just watch?”, there is a lack of closure. Belfort’s story is still ongoing (he is still alive after all), but in terms of a film, we’ve all grown to expect (and for good reason) a distinct ending that we can identify. Not because all stories must end — stories that make you think long after they’re over are some of the best — but the story that’s being told at this exact moment must have an end. Without closure we’re left wondering “What just happened” because we’re waiting for more.
The Wolf of Wall Street is an epic movie that feels much more condensed than it actually is. You get to see Jordan Belfort’s life go from rags to riches as he defrauds Wall Street and all the crazy mayhem that accompanies it. Scorsese does a fantastic job at corralling a huge cast and making this story very appealing. While the film does lack closure and a sense of purpose, that is an inherent side effect of a biopic, and even with that, The Wolf of Wall Street still provides a great sense of purpose throughout. While I wouldn’t consider this to be Scorsese’s best film, it certainly is a very entertaining film that I’m very glad I saw.
The Wolf of Wall Street opens on Christmas Day 2013.
THE RATING: 4 out of 5