Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Jon Bernthal
Rating: 4 and a half out of 5 white Ferraris for this potentially problematic but absolutely exhilarating roller coaster ride through the giddy gluttony and grotesque guilt (when there is any) of the 1%; like a comedic romp through excess that mimics the themes and structure of Goodfellas but with even more humor and style to offset the oft posited possibility of glorification, and the performances are perfect all around, just as I expected them to be.
I am very glad, let me say first, that I took some time away after watching this film before writing about it, because like the many ‘ludes Jordan Belfort takes throughout his over the top time at the top, this 3 hour feature will leave you high and numb; if you let it, that is. For those who fear and even further argue that Scorsese’s film will or does glorify Belfort’s ruthlessly immoral, illegal, selfish and masogynist behavior which made him disturbingly wealthy, by portraying those actions in rock star fashion– thanks of course to DiCaprio’s larger than life performance– I would argue that this is far from the case. This film plays out like a free spirited farce, yes, and DiCaprio is infectiously charming at times. But, this fairy tale gets darker and darker, and I would be surprised to find that anyone watching is ever truly convinced that Belfort’s means justify his decadent ends. Because among the debauchery, there are so many highly stylized moments that give the true story perhaps not a sense of ethics but certainly a sense of fantastical surrealism that distances us from the characters and the events of the film; we relate just enough to be invested in these dispicable characters, suspending disbelief and allowing ourselves to see them as caricatures sometimes as well, whose imminent demises lurk just beyond mayhem that in itself is made to seem all the more unachievable and not remotely advisable or commendable anyway.
Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest let me also applaud the film for its structure and pacing which helped the film move steadily, even when seeing certain sins being repeatedly committed (which may open up the can of worms that is Scorsese’s portrayal of women: there was a lot of sex and nudity in the form of prostitutes and mistresses but I actually appreciated Robbie’s Naomi character who is a worthy and well matched wife and sexually powerful adversary for Belfort). We even see an event twice but for humor and even more than that, we see it as yet another example of how without drugs, money really doesn’t buy these characters happiness but it certainly does tickle ours, time and time again throughout the film.
Then of course there is the use of voiceover and countless other artistic choices like music, characteristically interesting things Scorsese plays with, but as opposed to a carefully paced snapshot filled with nostalgia and paranoia (like Goodfellas) this movie is brazen, brash, and bloated, riding on its own kind of high and never really crashing. The film’s opening or lack thereof is like a jolt and the non-linear storytelling works flawlessly, as Belfort speaks to the fourth wall and making us feel like safely distanced insiders, which is a comfortable opportunity to feel a similar thrill to those being described and depicted. And that is the very magic of Scorsese’s filmmaking here. The other shining star of this film besides the film itself is its literal stars. Leo needs an Oscar for every nuance of his performance as Belfort– from physical comedy when high to his crowd-pleasing and inspirational morale boosters and sales pitches to his moments of childish anger and defeat and desperation. Leo nails all of it, every layer and moment, even better than he usually does. Jonah Hill and Jon Bernthal were particular supporting standouts, but perhaps that is partly because I love them both anyway. Hill especially astounded me though in his ability to be funny and dramatic, even with those fake teeth and that accent.
I seriously loved this movie, it met every expectation and then some. It is the most fun 3 hours you will ever spend being entranced by the humor of hubris on screen. Scorsese is at his best here in terms of giving us an enigmatic antihero, a protagonist you love and hate and cheer for and condemn all at once, aided of course by the script and real life source material and DiCaprio’s dynamic performance. This film is fast and ferocious, and it doesn’t force you to idolize Belfort unconditionally but no, it does not waste any of its screen time on concern for equally self-righteous redemption or regret either. And this, which may for some be the film’s biggest downside is for me precisely this film’s greatest strength; it is what makes this film such a wild and wonderful work of art, endlessly entertaining and relentlessly outrageous.