2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street was a marathon but breezy three-hour epic from Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, Goodfellas) chronicling the rise and deserved fall of Jordon Belfort, in spectacular fashion. Bawdy, drug-fueled lives pursue wealth at the expense of ethics and decency. Leonardo DiCaprio delivers an electric, riveting performance and is surrounded by a fine supporting cast at the top of their games. The Wolf of Wall Street is a superbly crafted film. It’s been 8 years since this wild ride premiered and it’s still quite something to behold.
The Production: 4.5/5
“On a daily basis I consume enough drugs to sedate Manhattan, Long Island, and Queens for a month. I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my “back pain”, Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, pot to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine… Well, because it’s awesome.”
Jordon Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is hungry for wealth and excess. A gifted salesman able to spin compelling stories of worthless stocks to purchase to eager clients, Belfort enjoys a startling rise of power as an upstart on Wall Street. Boundlessly accumulating money and material goods, the methods, and practices he evangelizes to his employees don’t pass the muster of the letter or the spirit of the law. His meteoric rise continues, his relationship with his broker buddies deepens, but his relationship with his wife – whom he met before striking gold on the bull market – falters. His appetite for money, drugs and women is insatiable. His rise catches notice of the Securities and Exchange Committee (SEC), but still, he continues his ways. Eventually the F.B.I, by way of Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler), become interested in his ways for possible criminal infringement, and soon Belfort’s undoing is deservedly on the way. Through his rise and ultimate fall, Belfort’s story proves to be both repulsive and extraordinary.
Based on a true story, recounted by Jordon Belfort himself in his book, The Wolf of Wall Street, is a magnificently produced film; slick, brisk, and bright. Scorsese may have replaced the mobster criminal types from his Casino and Goodfellas Days with white collar criminals less inclined to take a baseball to a foes head and more inclined to insult or yell at them, but the underlying twisted moral compass is still a clear fascination for his directorial eye. Some controversy of the film was not unexpected. A sensitivity to Wall Street excesses, stimulated by the financial crisis of 2008 and the still ongoing political barb-trading over executive pay and concentration of wealth among the ‘one-percent’, along with Belfort himself profiting from the film, were all ripe ingredients to look scornfully upon the film. Some consternation is reasonable, but Scorsese’s work here is simply too brilliant to be ignored, and the palpable greed on display by the characters – none more the Belfort – would seem to stand as testament to the kind of behavior and damaged morality we all can agree is damaging to everyone and everything.
Director Martin Scorsese has long, and rightfully, been lauded as a giant of American filmmaking. An incredible energy runs through every frame of Wolf, zinging from drug-fueled trade to drug-addled day, as if the movie itself were high on the drugs used by the broker criminals. Here, subject to Scorsese’s attention, are characters reduced to animalistic urges induced by the pursuit of materialistic gain. The adoration of money, the addiction to gain, and the surge of adrenaline from ferociously targeting client’s money. is unabashedly on display. And there’s precious little by way of a protagonist for whom the audience should root. In essence, Scorsese goes whole-hog, supplanting a morality tale–at least in its traditional framework–for an unadulterated retelling of the pernicious exploits of Belfort and his underlings. It is in perhaps in the excess Scorsese displays; the drugs, the sex, the heartlessness of this form of wealth accumulation, that serves as the warning. A display of such shameless indulgence should dismay us enough so that we don’t need the vacillation or evolution of a character questioning the turpitude of what’s going on.
Performances are all top tier, with Leonardo DiCaprio giving everything he has to this portrayal. It’s mesmerizing. An electric and fierce display of power and weakness, a fantastic embrace of the Faustian foibles (and DiCaprio was rightly recognized with a Golden Globe for Best Actor). Jonah Hill stands out in his award-winning supporting role, Donnie Azoff. With a well-earned humor he imbues his soft, mothered character with equal parts social sap and haughty hubris, delivering a very entertaining result. Matthew McConaughey’s brief encounter as Mark Hanna, an influential broker early in Belfort’s career, is memorable, Rob Reiner’s role as Belfort’s father, Max, is likeable, and Kyle Chandler’s presence as the FBI’s investigating Agent Denham is sturdy. Margot Robbie, early in the ascendance of her career, portraying Naomi Lapaglia is brilliant here. A mix of shallowness, desperation, anger, and allure collide in her performance to deliver a standout presence in the film. Others in the cast, notably the close crew of Belfort’s friends, deliver most capably as an almost slacker group transformed into financial sharks.
The Wolf of Wall Street is another superb American film by one of cinema’s masters. Uniformly excellent performances, a remarkable energy, and despite the despicable tactics and plethora of excesses that should make you shake your head in bemusement, the film is entirely entertaining.
3D Rating: NA
Scorsese in 4k, done right, is always cause for celebration. Paramount’s The Wolf of Wall Street has been available for a little while as a digital 4K release and now makes its bow on UHD. It’s a delight and the Dolby Vision HDR grading makes a world of difference.
The presentation is alive with striking colors that are given space to pop incredibly from the deep black level, superb shadow details, and contrast that deliver delight to your eyeballs. I loved the look of this film in 4K. Scorsese filmed Wolf on 35mm, and the texture of film is superb.
Framed at 2.35:1, The Wolf of Wall Street remains one of Scorsese’s most colorful pictures. It has a bias toward the warmer, richer tones. Golds, yellows, and warm browns tend to dominate. Though blues and blacks (typically suits) do pop. The sun seems to shine all the time and the glitz and shine of money lavished on homes and offices is apparent. Flesh tones are generally natural but again tend toward the warmer end of the spectrum. One last note is the use of bright light, from the sun, outside, through windows, from electric sources in offices and homes, is a defining element of the cinematography that stands out.
Though Scorsese may not rely upon traditional scoring for most of his pictures – instead relying on a mix of existing music (songs, tracks) to accompany his work – he always seems to create a memorable soundtrack (Shutter Island’s being the most compelling for this score fan). Here, the throb and pulse of energetic songs propels the images, and the English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track (the same from the previous Blu-ray release) handles it superbly.
Generally, a heavily dialogued film the center channel carries that off without a hitch, beautifully crisp, evenly balanced and without fault. The party scenes tend to fill up the audio, rumbling and kicking alive and so the result is a very active audio.
Special Features: 2/5
The same very small collection of special features from the previous Blu-ray release are available here.
The Wolf Pack: Cast and crew discuss making The Wolf of Wall Street.
Running Wild: Additional look at the making of the film and how it came to be. Comments from DiCaprio and Hill are particularly fun and interesting.
The Wolf of Wall Street Roundtable: Conversation between DiCaprio, Scorsese, Hill, Screenwriter Terence Winter on working together and approaching this film. This is the best of the special features.
Digital Code (not MA compatible)
The Wolf of Wall Street is wicked and wickedly funny. Though moral debasement is in almost every frame, it’s hard not to be entertained by the mastery of Scorsese’s filmmaking and the unabashed vigor of his storytelling. Excellence abounds in this film and while the story lacks a protagonist with whom we can follow into and out of the abandonment of ethics (as we were able to in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street through Charlie Sheen’s Bud Fox character), the point is made nonetheless in Wolf that Belfort’s practices are despicable and what goes around, comes around…eventually.
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