The Wolf of Wall Street: Scorsese’s Latest Tour-de-Force

By Kayly Coleman / Staff Writer

Martin Scorsese’s latest film, “The Wolf of Wall Street”, shows the prolific director, acclaimed actor Leonardo DiCaprio and newcomers Jonah Hill and Margot Robbie at the top of their game.  It came out in theaters last December and was nominated for several awards, including Best Picture, at the 86 Academy Awards.  Based upon the memoir by controversial stockbroker Jordan Belfort, it runs at just under three hours but manages to keep the audience engaged from the opening up to the credits.

DiCaprio plays Belfort, an ambitious stockbroker who founded Stratton Oakmont out of an abandoned Long Island garage after the stock market crash of 1987.  He rapidly swindles his way to an enormous personal fortune by selling penny stocks with his team of inexperienced but ruthless friends-turned-stockbrokers.  DiCaprio gives a brilliant performance of pure anti-heroism, portraying the ambitious, arrogant, corrupt and passionate Belfort.  He expertly works his way through scenes of absolute debauchery – naked marching bands, “stripper stampedes” – and long, motivational monologues delivered to his staff.

Hill, in a breakthrough performance, plays Donnie Azoff, Belfort’s nerdy overweight neighbor whom Belfort impulsively hires and who eventually becomes his beta-male wingman.  Together they embark on a quest to sell penny stocks to reputable millionaires, all the while doing massive amounts of drugs and spending massive amounts of money on penthouse suites, yachts, strippers, fast cars – the normal cliché activities millionaires participate in.

One of the best scenes features Belfort and Azoff tripping on Quaaludes, a long-banned sedative with apparent devastating consequences if taken in high doses.  Azoff is about to reveal over Belfort’s wiretapped phone that he plans on illegally transferring $2 million to a Swiss bank account.  In a moment of panic, Belfort desperately tries to stop Azoff from saying anything that could implicate him.  This train wreck of a situation and the sheer desperation and frustration on Belfort’s face as he struggles to speak and drag himself to his car so he can stop his downfall is brilliant, even if it’s hard to watch.

“The Wolf of Wall Street” has a darkly comic tone not usually found in Scorsese films (Think “Casino” or “Goodfellas”, Scorsese’s 1990 Oscar-winner to which “The Wolf of Wall Street” is often compared to).  Given the material, some comic relief is surely needed.  Belfort pantomimes rough sex with a client he is conning over the phone to the enjoyment of his staff, and the aforementioned scene of Belfort dragging himself across a country club parking lot leads into a larger-than-life slapstick scene.

Much of the dark humor derives from DiCaprio’s exaggerated and extravagant portrayal of Jordan Belfort.  The thing that bothered me the most about Belfort – besides the fact that he indifferently snorts cocaine off of stripper’s backs, cheats on his wife, and engages in other depravities – is that his broad, wicked smile is still more or less in place by the end of the film.  He seems to learn nothing, to feel no remorse and to not even physically change at the end of this very long film.  Belfort never displays any regret, there is no narrative retribution and there is no criticism of his reckless and immoral behavior by any other character in the film.  This is what gives the film a lot of its black humor, along with originality. Belfort’s lack of morality and remorse for his actions, even after spending time in jail and losing his wife and many of his friends is certainly frustrating, but speaks to the casual and unwavering immorality of Wall Street stockbrokers.

Belfort is the perfect anti-hero, whom viewers love to hate but can’t seem to keep their eyes off of.  The film is an outrageous and over-the-top display of an anti-hero’s rise and fall.  One scene in particular stands out.  Belfort is urging his employees to remain steadfast in the face of the FBI investigation.  “This is Ellis Island, people,” he screams, forehead shining and veins pulsing.  “I don’t care who you are, where you’re from, whether your relatives came over on the Mayflower or an inner-tube from Haiti.  This, right here, is the land of opportunity.”  Then comes Belfort’s assertion, as clear as it is terrifying: “Stratton Oakmont is America.”

Scorsese’s latest is an epic tour-de-force that is as morbidly curious about the American condition as the rest of his greatest pieces.  He tackles how prosperous, yet corrupted, we can become by money.  Jordan Belfort acts as both the hopeless addict and zealous preacher, taking turns between being fulfilled and consumed by the most insidious drug of all: wealth.

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