Greedfellas: 'The Wolf of Wall Street'

As he does every time he takes on such epic material, America's auteur finds subtext in scope and insight in the increasing downward spiral of his lawless heroes.

The Wolf of Wall Street

Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler, Matthew McConaughey, Rob Reiner,
Rated: R
Studio: Paramount
Year: 2013
US date: 2013-12-25 (General release)

It's one of the best films of the year and yet few critics groups will acknowledge it as such. It easily trumps that equally effective imitator American Hustle and clearly proves, once again, that when handed a storyline, a source, a star, and a sense of purpose, no one can direct the shit out of something better than Martin Scorsese. Call it Greedfellas or Corporate Casino, but The Wolf of Wall Street, based on the skyrocket rise and A-bomb like fall(out) of financial conman Jordan Belfort and his Quaalude and coke fueled boiler room that seemingly begets everything bad about the '80s is one of 2013's most audacious and rewarding experiences. Yes, the studio screwed the pooch on its award season timing in this case. It doesn't matter, the movie is a near masterpiece even without all the falling over themselves tin accolades.

In a standard Scorsese way, we are introduced to Belfort (an absolutely brilliant and unbridled Leonard DiCaprio) as he is starting out his stock market tour of duty. Immediately dressed down by one of the big shots at the firm he's just been hired by, he is taken under the wing of the more down to earth and Zen partner, Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughy). It is from his snow-stained lips that many of the lessons Belfort would exploit as part of his own eventual business model would emanate. After losing his job rather quickly, our neophyte entrepreneur discovers the ripe for the pickings world of penny stocks. With the help of a newfound associate named Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) and some salesman pals from the neighborhood, Belfort builds his operation from a dingy garage in the boondocks to the fanciest digs in the financial district. Along the way, he divorces his first wife, takes up with a stunning blonde named Naomi (Margot Robbie) and draws the attention of the FBI (Kyle Chandler), hoping to nail him and his firm for multiple illegal acts.

As he does every time he takes on such epic material, America's auteur finds subtext in scope and insight in the increasing downward spiral of his lawless heroes. The Wolf of Wall Street does for white color crime what his previous classics did for the mafia and street justice. Without focusing on the fallout from these unbelievable bastards (we get one phone call showing how Belfort roped in and ripped off his victims, but that's it) and using their excesses as examples of tragic hero failure, we end up with an endless rollercoaster of stellar set-piece and brave character concerns. In essence we are watching our present preplanned by the past, a world where the Bulls and the Bears buffer their loses and work out their winnings off the backs of those who believe the market is a "safe bet." Like the telling line in Casino, the key for Belfort and his crew are to keep the suckers on the hook and to keep them playing.

This is the movie Oliver Stone wasn't brave enough to make, a caustic comedy which illustrates all the shortcomings in his "Greed is good" god love letter to Gordon Gekko and his corporate raiding ilk. For those concerned about how this scheme worked or how Belfort got away with it for so long, seek solace elsewhere. This is not one of Scorsese's tell-all explanations on an otherwise hidden world. Instead, it's a fly on the wall farce where no dollar amount is too big, no pile of coke too tantalizing, no whore to skanky to indulge in. Oddly enough, it's those elusive ludes, not a certain white line, that influenced much of Belfort's boiler room. As a matter of fact, there is a fabulous sequence where DiCaprio and Hill, after taking several supposedly super strong pills, try to function during a crisis. The results are so amazing, so wrapped up in both the physical comedy of the past and the scatological slapstick of today that the scene ranks right up there with some of the best moments in the history of movies.

It's thanks to the actors that The Wolf of Wall Street works. Even though he's only in the film for a brief scene or two, McConaughy gives great guru. One can easily hear his insane mantras being adopted by wannabe MBAs around the globe. Similarly, Chandler's harried G-man has a great moment where he gets to dress down an arrogant Belfort on a football field sized yacht. The irony is delicious. Of the few ladies present, Ms. Robbie remains the movie's secret weapon. At first, we fear she will just be agreeable eye candy. Then she starts to take apart her hedonistic husband, warning him about the consequences of his actions and, before we know it, she's gone from bombshell/borderline bimbo to the most levelheaded and likable character in the film. No matter what happens, we want Naomi to get out from under Belfort's malignant machismo and desire to master his constantly fleeting destiny.

But it's DiCaprio and Hill who outdo themselves in the buddy film facets of their relationship. The latter turns the former on to crack (in another amazing, laugh out loud moment) while the boss becomes the mentor to his underling's growing desire for the good life. J. Edgar aside, DiCaprio has been giving Oscar caliber performances over the last few years and The Wolf of Wall Street is no exception. He is so good here, so perfectly in sync with what Scorsese and the film want to accomplish that his mere presence makes you giddy with anticipation. Sure, Belfort is an asshole, the kind of man who robs from those who can't afford such commercial ransoms and gives to himself, but he gets so much specious joy out of the act that you can't help but urge him along. Hills helps his own cause by flashing a pair of fake front teeth (the result of an early veneer job) and doing his best stoned stooge routine. Together, they create a classic comedy team, except instead of mining mere laughs, their digging up some insane debauchery as well.

Indeed, The Wolf of Wall Street is a choice change of pace for Scorsese, a narrative where gore is replaced with gratuity and the nastiest tricks of the criminal trade swapped with bare breasts and candles up the ass. The hits these men procure are made up of various recreational pharmaceuticals and the only regrets come at the point of a subpoena, not a competing family's gun. It's one of his funniest, most frenzied efforts and at nearly three hours, it speeds by like a floor trader on amphetamines. The fact that Paramount missed the boat here means that, yet again, DiCaprio and company will more than likely be left out of the mandatory January through March gold statue brouhaha. No matter, it's the movie that counts in the end and in the case of The Wolf of Wall Street, it's a wonder to behold.






The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.


John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.


Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.


Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.


Murder Is Most Factorial in 'Eighth Detective'

Mathematician Alex Pavesi's debut novel, The Eighth Detective, posits mathematical rules defining 'detective fiction'.


Eyedress Sets Emotions Against Shoegaze Backdrops on 'Let's Skip to the Wedding'

Eyedress' Let's Skip to the Wedding is a jaggedly dreamy assemblage of sounds that's both temporally compact and imaginatively expansive, all wrapped in vintage shoegaze ephemera.


Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.


Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.


Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".


The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.


The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.


Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.


​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.


John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.