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The Wolf of Wall Street

No good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough. –Roger Ebert

It’s three hours long, folks. Three hours long.

I tell you this up front because no one bothered to tell me. Though I had certainly heard a lot of praise for The Wolf of Wall Street, I never heard that the movie broke that 180-minute threshold. And that’s after a month’s delay to REDUCE the runtime.

This revelation gave me pause before I signed up to see this movie, but it’s still one of the year’s great awards favorites. Plus, it’s another film made by the golden partnership of Scorsese and DiCaprio, made on the condition that there were no limits to what Scorsese could put on film. So I went to see the movie, and I never once thought about the runtime. I was too busy enjoying every single goddamned minute.

I mean, how could this story possibly be stretched to three hours, right? It’s the rise and fall of a young stockbroker (the real-life persona of Jordan Belfort, here immortalized by Leonardo DiCaprio) who earns vast riches before going down in a blaze of FBI raids and federal convictions. It’s a story that’s been told umpteen times in cinema before. But it’s never been told like this.

(Side note: Though the film was based on a true story — Belfort’s memoir, in point of fact — many of the character’s names were changed.)

To wit: There’s a scene in which Jordan is having an office meeting with some members of his inner circle. They’re planning one of their weekly office parties. And during this meeting, they talk for something like five minutes about the ethics of midget tossing. I shit you not. These proud one-percenters are talking about what they can legally and ethically pay a midget to do. They even debate about whether or not midgets have superhuman strength or even if they’re people.

Did that conversation need to be five minutes long? No way. Did that conversation even need to be in the movie? Probably not. But every single word of dialogue in that scene drives the point home that these rich assholes do not have a single fuck to give. It’s so wrong on every conceivable level, allowing us to hate these characters even as we laugh hysterically at how wrong this whole thing is. And that’s the film in a nutshell.

You know those guys who fantasize about winning the lottery just so they could blow all that money up their noses? The kind of people who would waste all their money on hookers and drugs and yachts big enough to park their helicopters on? That’s the kind of person Jordan is, and that’s the kind of person he hires. He wants people who are hungry, tenacious, and stupid. People who will screw over anyone and everyone in the pursuit of wealth. And then blow their commissions on parties rowdy enough to make Jay Gatsby’s house look like a convent.

I’m talking about more naked women and rampant sex than the Playboy Mansion. Enough coke and quaaludes to give Tony Fucking Montana five heart attacks. Enough alcohol to float Jordan’s 170-foot yacht. So much cash that our characters are literally swimming in the stuff. Caligula himself would look upon the offices of Stratton Oakmont with envy.

And of course, that’s the point entirely. The film satirizes Wall Street crooks by showing their crimes and excesses to such a comical degree that we can laugh in disbelief even as we hate their guts. That’s what keeps this movie entertaining all the way from start to finish. Well, that and the knowledge that the takedowns will surely be every bit as entertaining to watch. People who do enough drugs to shut down New York City on a daily basis aren’t the type to go quietly into the night. That’s just not how it works.

This film is entirely about excess, and that point is made clear from the opening frames of this movie. This is made most especially clear in the narration, which takes all manner of forms throughout this movie. Sometimes Jordan talks to us in voice-over, sometimes he directly breaks the fourth wall, and on a few rare occasions, he even trades a few voice-over exchanges with other characters to show the subtext of what they’re saying. It was a brilliant way of expressing the whole “anything goes and no fucks are given” mentality of this film and its characters.

But then, inevitably, Jordan is brought crashing down as his crimes and his lifestyle catch up to him. This, I think, is most clearly expressed by his love life. When we first meet Jordan, he’s married to a blonde and bronzed goddess named Naomi Lapaglia (Margot Robbie). She’s introduced as Jordan’s wife while she’s mid-fellatio in the passenger seat of his space-age car. But then we flash back to the day when Jordan is first starting out on Wall Street. We see that he’s married to a different woman entirely (Teresa, played by Cristin Milioti), and it’s easy to guess what happens next. Indeed, that’s pretty much exactly what happens.

Now, the easy and cliched route would be to think that Naomi only loved Jordan for his money. But that’s not exactly what happened. On the contrary, it’s obvious that Teresa and Naomi both love Jordan very dearly. They didn’t change, he did. Money, drugs, and hookers changed him, just as thoroughly as desperation and disgrace changed him. This puts a greater amount of responsibility on Jordan, and makes his fall from grace so much more captivating to watch.

It’s no secret that Leonardo DiCaprio has spent the past several years gunning for an Oscar. Heaven knows he’s been denied even the slightest amount of professional recognition in spite of all the effort he’s put in. If playing key roles for Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, James Cameron, Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, and Christopher Nolan isn’t enough to pay your dues, I don’t know what is.

It saddens me to think that this may not be the role to finally get DiCaprio a statuette. The Academy has been going the safe and easy route in recent years (see: The King’s Speech), and this film is about as far removed from “safe and easy” as any mainstream film is likely to get.

With all of that said, if DiCaprio doesn’t get the statue for this performance, I don’t think he ever will. There’s no way DiCaprio has two performances like this in him. Hell, I don’t even know how he came up with this performance the first time. Remember, this character is on the screen through nearly every frame of this three-hour movie. To repeat, that’s three hours playing a charismatic scam artist, powering his way through inevitable divorce and possible jail time with nothing but a mountain of cocaine to sustain him. And not only did DiCaprio take on this Herculean feat, but he does it with incredible style. He dominates the screen through every moment of the running time. Everything since Titanic has been leading up to his performance here. This is DiCaprio’s masterpiece, the performance that all of his past and future performances will surely be measured against.

Also, if you haven’t seen Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill fighting each other while both of them are on so many quaaludes that they’ve lost all muscle control, you haven’t lived.

Yes, Jonah Hill appears as Donnie Azoff, one of Jordan’s very first employees. Donnie is the exact kind of disciple that Jordan was looking for in his early days: A stupid misfit with nothing to lose and everything to prove. Unfortunately, though Donnie is as loyal as they come, he’s also quite terrible at holding his drugs and alcohol. The guy can’t manage his ego, which naturally leads to quite a few costly foul-ups. All told, it’s a neat blend of Jonah Hill’s brainy-yet-shy persona (see: Moneyball) with his rampant predilection for debauchery and juvenile humor (see: Everything else he’s done. On crack.).

Really, there isn’t a single bad performance in this whole cast. Kyle Chandler is surprisingly punchy as a no-nonsense FBI agent. Matthew McConaughey only appears for a couple of scenes at the beginning, but that’s enough for him to steal the whole show. Margot Robbie came out of nowhere to prove that she’s an incredibly sexy young A-lister (or B-plus-lister at least) just waiting to happen.

The movie also features brief yet memorable turns from Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau, Jake Hoffman, Joanna Lumley, Jean Dujardin, Spike Jonze, the list goes on and on. I guess that’s one of the perks of being someone like Martin Scorsese: There’s no such thing as a dream cast. You pick the talent you want, you put in the call, they say yes.

Speaking of which, Scorsese did a phenomenal job of directing this picture. For one thing, he was able to keep all this mayhem coherent and entertaining for three hours, which is no small achievement. Secondly, he did a superb job of presenting all the financial backdoor dealings in a way that any layman could follow. Of course, it helps that Jordan has such a no-bullshit approach to all the crimes he’s committing.

Which brings me to the film’s true unspoken hero, Terence Winter. I had never heard of this guy before, but everything clicked into place when I ran through his CV. The guy was a writer and exec-producer on “The Sopranos” and “Boardwalk Empire,” so putting him in charge of writing this screenplay makes all kinds of sense. When this script was funny and witty, I wanted to pause this movie until I was finally done laughing. Yet when the film slows down to look at the very real consequences of the characters’ actions, it was heartbreaking. The performances and direction have a huge part in that, I grant you, but still.

If I have one nitpick with this movie, it’s the editing. There’s some really bad ADR in spots, and some continuity glitches can be spotted quite easily. The way this film was put together, I have little doubt that Scorsese was forced to trim the movie down from a five-hour NC-17 cut. Hell, the film as it is holds the new record for the highest F-bomb count in a non-documentary film. But honestly, if there’s any more to this movie, I really want to see it.

You’re going to hear that The Wolf of Wall Street is one of the year’s best films, and you should totally believe the hype. The film is packed with talent on both sides of the camera, and they are all delivering some of the best work they’ve ever accomplished. In particular, DiCaprio could retire from acting altogether after this film and call it a career well done. This film had me laughing and crying through every one of its 180 minutes, and I can pay it no higher compliment than that.

Ladies and gentlemen, I know that it’s a long movie and I know that not everyone has a stomach for such epic displays of debauchery. Even so, I cannot stress this enough: GO SEE THIS MOVIE!!!

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