There’s a sense of direction that only Martin Scorcese can bring, which The Wolf of Wall Street shows in spades. This 3-hour windup about tons of drugs, crudeness, sex and decadence somehow finds the fine line of taste, to retain an interest for its full run and welcome viewers into this hedonistic universe. Stellar performances from its main cast help to create that bond, so much so that it will feel dangerously enticing to be a wolf; to be pure and uncut evil.
As a biography, this story follows one of the most successful stock brokers of the modern world and their rise to wealth and power. Not hindered by morality, this accolade is achieved through infamy, taking liberties wherever needed and justifying whatever whim fits. A poorer man would be labeled a sociopath, but this sharply dressed gentlemen turns to monologue on the screen as if we were all good friends since high school. That too, is the candor of the libertine. It’s no big deal, right? It’s just tons of illegal activity that grazes over destroying the lives of dozens upon dozens of things resembling people.
As the protagonist, Leonardo DiCaprio takes this wolf part to heart and brings it on screen with a strangely calming honesty. It’s evil, but it’s also so sincere that it doesn’t become offensive. That’s just who that character is through and through. At his side, there are several equal sodomites, but none that relish in their decadence like the character played by Jonah Hill. Unexpected to many, it’s this person that shines through in the film, with a conniving charisma that doesn’t devolve into a silly carnival. While there may be more awkward situations, Hill portrays this with the utmost seriousness and that makes the pairing of the two brokers so captivating.
Both actors reach new heights in their performance. For DiCaprio, this is the most intense role since The Aviator. Whether laughing maniacally or rolling over the floor in a drug-fueled craze, the actor goes all out. This high energy emanates the sociopath behavior that would come with the part of a lush. It’s this exposition that keeps the long run of the movie captivating. It seems almost incredible just how DiCaprio gives and gives. It certainly is passionate, even in more down to earth moments.
For Jonah Hill this is an unparalleled role that will elevate what many think of the otherwise lighthearted actor. Matching the main role’s energy, the two are able to bounce off each other, with Hill keeping a separate personality. In fact, this individual part is perfectly portrayed as the element leading the protagonist astray. Staying with animal analogies, this character can be seen as the snake, enticing its surrounding with its wiling ways, then biting at the most vulnerable moment. If anything, Hill plays the greater evil in The Wolf of Wall Street and that’s a hard feat to pull off in that particular universe. It shows what men become when going from simple beginnings to a highly advantageous position.
There is a lengthy arc shown in this film. With three hours on the clock, the story starts at a budding graduate trying to make it in the world, all the way to the rise and fall of a hardened veteran. As this is a shaken life, it will come with lots of extraordinary events. From massive orgies to complex laundering tactics, it feels just diverse enough to make sense, even in its most illustrious bizarre situations. It’s a carnival ride, that’s for sure. Whether it’s a Ferris wheel or a haunted mansion ride is a different thing.
In any case, these events are furthered by the excellent cinematography. Slow motions sweeping through a giant scene or destruction taken in from a godlike top view are taken with intelligent precision. There’s a reason for each angle and each cut to come in when it does. It’s just so thought out that it feels like a masterful painting. Many times, the viewer is the fly on the wall, vicariously living through the action of these rats trapped in their vicious world.
Perhaps the pinnacle of all combined elements comes from a scene later in the film. There’s never been a movie that could make a connection to a children’s cartoon in a death defying moment and yet have it come over so genuine. While most events don’t exactly feel realistic, with literal fanfares bursting through doors, it’s this moment that consolidates just how The Wolf of Wall Street is a piece worth watching. It can take anything and somehow turn it into a real life event, even when fully detached of any such expectation. In no small part is that thanks to just how brilliant the acting work is from the entire cast. It wouldn’t have worked without each person giving it their all.
Capping off the stellar play, there are even some human moments to be seen. There may not really be any of it alluding from the hedonist premise, but there are hardships, even in their own realm. Pursuing illegal activities on a massive scale isn’t exactly going to go unheard. Yet, the more gripping moments aren’t really of the overarching struggles from the capitalist adventure, but more the interrelation between the characters and their actions. With such disregard for morality, troubles are bound to arise and there are the odd times when a quiet second allows for introspection. Again, it’s a reflection living in its own world of filth, but it does once more further the genuine angle the film works on.
For whatever reason it may be, The Wolf of Wall Street is a must to see in one’s lifetime. It’s better and deeper than the simple glam shots will make it seem. There is thought put into making every second of its long run interesting and that with performances from its cast that can easily be put in their highest accolades. Come for the sex and drugs, stay for the portrayal of the human condition.