No Morals, No Problem
In "The Wolf of Wall Street," meet and hate Jordan Belfort, for whom debauchery is a way of life
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau, Matthew McConaughey
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Stars: 3 1/2 out of 4
Rating: Rated R
Money, drugs and hookers are a dangerous combination for anyone. When they're put in the hands of a hotshot young stockbroker without a conscience, they can be deadly. In the case of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) in "The Wolf of Wall Street," he has a mansion, yacht, private jet, six cars, a steady supply of cocaine and everything else money can buy. Debauchery isn't a habit for him; it's a way of life.
Jordan is not an easy person to like, but he is fun to watch. He doesn't believe in excess; there's no such thing as "taking it too far." It's the late '80s, so anything goes. He's a terrible role model in many ways, but, man, does the guy know how to have a good time.
Right-hand man Donnie (Jonah Hill), who's socially awkward yet just as big a party animal as Jordan, masturbates in public the first time he sees Jordan's stunningly gorgeous future wife, Naomi (Margot Robbie). Yes-men, well-wishers, enablers and moochers surround Jordan and Donnie. There are a few brutally honest voices: Jordan's father, Max (Rob Reiner), is a temperamental voice of reason; attorney Manny Riskin (Jon Favreau) gives a few reality checks; and most important, FBI agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) makes it clear he's watching.
How did Jordan get this way? His first day on the job he meets Mark (Matthew McConaughey), who (Jordan is impressed to hear) earned $1 million last year. Mark takes him to lunch, tells him how the business really works and how to succeed in it. McConaughey is an absolute treat in these scenes, oozing sleaze and style with puffy hair and a perpetual grin of self-satisfaction. The only shame is that he doesn't return after teaching these important lessons.
Director Martin Scorsese's ("The Departed") film is based on a true story, with the screenplay adapted by Terence Winter from a book of the same name by the real Jordan Belfort. One imagines, given the source, that there's some embellishment in the craziness of the parties and stories depicted here, but so be it — truth is not imperative for our enjoyment. What is important, and at least feels authentic, is the rollercoaster life Belfort led and how well his story is told.
Scorsese is on top of his game here, perpetually finding something new for Jordan to take to an extreme. Because Jordan is out of control for so much of the three-hour movie, we often laugh at his craziness, knowing that ribald boys will be boys. In some ways, the film has a similar structure to "Goodfellas," in that it chronicles a lavish life of grandeur that anyone would want, followed by a precipitous and inevitable fall. The regret in the end is not for sins committed, but rather for not covering tracks better so they can continue to be committed.
Watching Jordan, it's easy for us to imagine he saw Michael Douglas' Gordon Gekko in "Wall Street" (1987) and said, "That's what I want to be!" Greed is indeed good for a while, but in the end, as it often does, avarice becomes his undoing. Scorsese doesn't lay it on too thick in condemning Jordan for his misdeeds — doing so would, by extension, throw scorn at the audience for enjoying watching him be so naughty — but Scorsese and longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker do maintain the proper energy and tempo throughout.
"The Wolf of Wall Street" is full of shocking moments you won't soon forget. It's an absolute trip.