So, The Wolf of Wall Street had a bit of an uphill battle right from the get-go with me, since the editors of the list decided to remove The Departed, arguably Scorsese’s best film since Goodfellas, in order to add it (not the only injustice to come from the new edition, as I will get to in another review if I remember). Now, in retrospect, I probably should’ve seen it coming, what with the editors doing exactly this sort of thing in damn near every single updated edition up to now, but regardless; The Wolf of Wall Street started out with a mark against it in my book. Nevertheless, I started the film, and probably in the first 15 minutes, that mark flew by the wayside. Now, I’m certainly not advocating that this film deserves its spot on the list more than The Departed does, but to discount the talent and skill put on display by damn near everyone involved with this film, even with the injustice perpetrated by the editors of the list, is to be a little too vindictive for a cinephile like myself; this is prime Scorsese, which is amusing because the man seems to have had two major prime periods in his career, and it’s with this film that he proves that the second is not over yet.
Based on his own autobiography, the film is the story of Jordan Belfort, who at the start of the film is a wannabe Wall Street kingpin taken under the wing of a major player in the business, played in an excellent cameo role by Matthew McConaughey. After Wall Street’s Black Monday, however, Belfort is relegated to a penny stock firm, where he uses what his former mentor taught him to swiftly rise to the top of the company’s gang of brokers, albeit through scrupulous and questionably legal means of moneymaking. Buoyed by this success, he opens his own firm, given the name Stratton Oakmont to aid in some form of legitimacy, and thus his meteoric rise to achieving his dreams is set into motion, complete with the makings of an equally meteoric and inevitable downfall. To be honest, if pressed for an explanation of what this film does wrong, I probably couldn’t come up with anything; I couldn’t while I was watching the film, and I can’t thinking back on it now. So, why the upper-mid-level rating? Honestly, not because the film does things wrong, but because what it does right doesn’t seem to add up to a product that is more than the sum of its parts, like truly great films inexplicably manage to do; here, the arithmetic on both sides of the equation is content to match each other, equalling out instead of surpassing the feeble laws of cinematic mathematics. Now, granted, everyone here has definitely brought their A-game. Leo DiCaprio is basically given free rein to do with the character what he pleases, and he more than sinks his teeth into the role, as blatantly evident in the film’s now famously-comedic Quaaludes scene. The supporting players, in turn, are spot-on in every regard, and it is here that I have to say, and it is something I never thought I’d be able to say, but: Jonah Hill really impressed me. His faux-perfect smile and the sleaziness so thick you can literally hear it in his voice absolutely sells the character, and even though the phrase “two-time Academy Award nominee Jonah Hill” still makes me twitch a little, I can understand it a little bit better now. Outside the acting, the editing was excellent, knowing when to linger and when to cut to emphasize a scene’s moment, and the soundtrack was surprisingly progressive for a Scorsese film. Oh, and of course the screenplay, which notably shattered the record for most uses of the word “fuck” in a non-documentary film; I knew this going in, and I sorta paid attention for it, and was surprised at how much of the screenplay ended up not just being that single word and its derivatives, so if the language is one of the apparent roadblocks to your enjoying this film, for me, it wasn’t as big of an issue as I was expecting.
One may certainly be a little hesitant to strike out on this escapade for several reasons, most of which have been addressed in the numerous complaints levied against the film for supposed glorification and revelry in its characters’ self-obsessed lifestyle; complaints made by people who clearly let the film’s actual point and purpose sail wistfully over their heads. The only other hesitation one might have is the film’s length: it is 3 hours long, but it is 3 solid hours, and though it feels like you’ve spent 3 solid hours on the film, at the end, myself, I couldn’t really find any good ways to make the film any more concise than it already was. It was during the explosive rise of Stratton Oakmont and their celebratory party after they officially ‘made it’ that the film’s true nature consolidated itself in my head; Scorsese has crafted a modern day Gordon-Gekko-meets-Frank-Abagnale opus for the ages, and indeed I can see the reputation of this one rising in the coming years, if for nothing else than for being a perfect capsule of the lifestyle the film depicts. That said, even in a perfect world, I still don’t think this would’ve (or should’ve) won Best Picture. It was a solidly entertaining film, and Scorsese proves once again that he definitely still has it, but that sweetness, that smooth texture that comes with seeing a truly superb film that instantly ranks among the all-time classics of cinema was not present here. Don’t let that discount you, though; for a 3-hour film, you could do a hell of a lot worse.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10