(C) Universal Pictures, Red Granite Pictures
The fifth pairing between world-renowned actor Leonardo DiCaprio (Titanic) and esteemed director Martin Scorsese (Raging Bull), The Wolf of Wall Street is best remembered for its over-the-top use of foul language – in fact it holds the record for most f-bombs in a mainstream film – and excessive party and sex scenes, and although it failed to clinch Leo the Oscar he so desires, today we will be discussing whether or not The Wolf of Wall Street is a worthy film of such an accolade.
Based (quite loosely) on the memoirs of Wall Street stockbroker Jordan Belfort, The Wolf of Wall Street follows Belfort (DiCaprio) as he rises and falls in the world of stocks. Starting off as a connector at a brokerage firm led by Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), Belfort soon owns his own firm: Stratton Oakmont, infamous for its drug-fuelled sales tactics and barbaric cult-like out-of-hours activity. With his best friend and partner Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) and his model wife Naomi LaPaglia (Margot Robbie) at his side, he has to face FBI investigation at the hands of Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler).
Straight off the bat, The Wolf of Wall Street makes itself stand out compared to most mainstream films due to its thoroughly unique style. As in lots of Scorsese’s films, voice-overs are used throughout, and in this particular film, to great effect. They mostly voice Belfort’s innermost thoughts, at times laugh-out-loud funny – one particular moment with the brilliant Joanna Lumley definitely stands out – but at times quite depressing and grounded. There’s also a few moments where the frame stops entirely, mostly to make way for Jordan’s thoughts, and it’s very refreshing to see this kind of approach being taken in an age where plenty of films are simple join-the-dots affairs.
By way of plot, The Wolf of Wall Street had its work cut out trying to adapt both of the real Jordan Belfort’s pretty lengthy memoirs. Having read and enjoyed both, I did feel a bit let down by the film’s plot. For the most-part, it remained incredibly faithful to the books, mixing elements and threads from both novels to make the plot a lot easier to follow, in a series of books where we don’t find out how Jordan worked his way up until roughly the 700-page mark of both books combined. This helped the film greatly and the details of Jordan’s rise are very well-communicated here – better than in the books – but towards the end cracks begin to show when the film deviates from the book entirely. The last hour or so of this 179-minute film is not at all like the books, where Jordan’s drug habit spirals out of control and he encounters the FBI again, is not terrible, but feels disjointed from the previous two hours. That’s not to say that part was dreadful – in fact it contains some of the film’s most emotional, hard-to-watch, and occasionally funny moments – but it goes quite far off the beat and track in comparison to the book. Aside from that, though, the film does an admirable job of handling the plot, keeping in the crucial elements yet still indulging itself in the more bonkers anecdotes of Belfort’s life.
Alongside this, there are a few elements sprinkled throughout that deviate entirely from the book, even when mixed with the more faithful moments. An encounter with FBI agent Denham on Jordan’s yacht the Naomi isn’t prevalent in the book and does little to further the story: mainly just proving that Jordan is a flawed character. Another minor gripe, but most of the names have been changed from the book – most likely for legal reasons, I recognise – but it is jarring nonetheless. Some of the characteristics of certain characters are also missing, such as Jordan’s PI Bo Dietl habit of calling everyone ‘Bo’, or Naomi’s custom of calling Jordan ‘little’. They’re minor issues, but it still takes away from the film if you’ve read and enjoyed the books.
That said, most elements of The Wolf of Wall Street are absolutely fantastic. Leonardo DiCaprio, in my opinion, should’ve won the Best Actor Oscar for his role in this film, because his performance is simply mesmerising. From his fantastic speech around the halfway mark when he announces that he’s leaving Stratton, which oozes emotion, to his superb trip on Quaaludes where he has to drive home, DiCaprio is stunning, portraying Jordan as an incredibly flawed man – riddled with drug addictions and a destructive lifestyle – yet somehow manages to make him endearing and somewhat likeable. Jonah Hill is fantastic in this film too, definitely deserving of his Oscar nomination, giving a performance far-removed from his typical role of ‘fat guy in a raunchy comedy’. Although you could say that’s exactly what he’s doing here, he does it with such finesse that it truly makes him stand out from the crowd in what is a superb cast. There’s too many great performances to list here, but I’ll mention a few: Margot Robbie was especially great as Naomi, and to rival the legendary Leonardo DiCaprio in only her second major motion picture is quite the feat. John Bernthal is also especially good as Brad, and Kyle Chandler stands out as Agent Denham, but in a film with such a great cast, there’s no bad performances here. Let’s not forget Matthew McConaughey too…
From a technical standpoint, The Wolf of Wall Street is simply a marvel – especially when considering it was independently funded. There are some great CGI shots – in particular yachts and helicopters – which although can’t rival those of blockbusters such as The Avengers, still look good on a reasonably small budget. The cinematography is great here as well, with some very ‘Scorsese’ tracking shots and some great establishing shots of the rich landscapes the film occupies, as well as some really great shot framing. Music is also great here, with a generally jazzy feel, although my stand-out song was ‘Mrs. Robinson’ when played towards the end.
There aren’t many films out there quite like The Wolf of Wall Street: it’s bonkers, full of swearing, belly-achingly funny at times but also quite dark at others, but despite its three-hour run time, I loved every second, even when some of the superior elements of the books were removed. It’s baffling how DiCaprio didn’t win an Oscar for this, since he delivers a sumptuous performance alongside a magnificent cast in what is one of 2013’s very best films.