I don’t think there are many directors working today who can capture the true picture of the doctrine of Total Depravity like Martin Scorsese. He may not see it that way, but the man can capture the essence of mans corruption so well it’s scary. Take Goodfellas for instance. Watching the utter demise of the titular character into the lowest rung of the human condition as he is corrupted further and further into the movie grips the audience. Look at some of his other films where he shows the dirty life of bad people like Raging Bull, Casino or the Departed. Each movie fascinating in their own right gives a grim picture of most, if not all of their characters and portrays them in such a real way it’s astonishing. It looked like the Wolf of Wall Street was going to go this route again, but I was not prepared for how in depth it would be.
Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an up and coming stockbroker who finds himself unemployed after Black Monday. Needing work he finds himself working for a penny stocks firm and with his natural charisma and thinking on his feet mentality he grows that into his own empire. From a small Long Island business to a man who becomes an employer of hundreds and making millions a year, he also becomes a bit of a mess. Addicted to drugs, especially Quaaludes, alcohol and constant sex amid ripping off random people throughout the country, he rides a bullet train to the top. As the company gets bigger and Jordan continues to do more and more illegal things he is soon investigated by the FBI and eventually gets told to snitch on others or he goes to jail.
While maybe not Scorcese’s best (I’m still sticking with Goodfellas) it sure is up there as one of DiCaprio’s. He so completely delved into this role that you aren’t aware you’re watching DiCaprio play a dirtbag. He is entirely emerged in the role and takes it to such extreme levels that you feel just as energized as he is throughout the film, his energy is that high. Jonah Hill has incredible chemistry with DiCaprio and gives just as good a performance that it still boggles my mind this is the vulgar fat kid from Superbad. The rest of the cast, consisting of Matthew McConaughey, Jon Bernthal, Rob Reiner and new comer Margot Robbie are all great in their perspective roles. Even guys who you know you’ve seen in other movies but can’t place the name, mostly playing DiCaprio’s character’s closest friends/business partners all do very well and bring even more crazy energy to the film. Though the film is over three hours long, it flies by because the liveliness of the actors is heightened by a tight edit, some great music and a story so crazy that it demands your attention.
Many of the reviews I read when this film was initially released in December 2013 were very argumentative that the film glorifies the rich and gives people like Jordan Belfort a pass. I thought this was odd after seeing the movie because there is absolutely none of that in this film. Instead you get a movie that shows the evils of utter corruption and what happens when a morally ambiguous guy gets his hands on endless power and money. This movie is a true exploration on man’s natural ability to and desire for sin with its biggest problem not being the excesses in which it is shown. Its biggest problem is that there is no repentance, there is no redemption, and there is no grace. In doing show it shows, powerfully, another great truth…men die in their sin. That is not only unnerving, it is sad.
This is not a film for everyone; believe me and what you’ve heard about this one. I was uncomfortable with a lot of what was going on onscreen. Yet, as odd as it sounds, most of it seemed necessary to convey the message that these characters are utterly corrupt and what you are seeing isn’t to titillate or exploit, but to make you uncomfortable because this entire story is utterly wrong and evil. For a great example of the total degeneracy of man and his tendency toward sin and his need for grace, this movie shows that fully, but I do not recommend it for most.
3 stars out of 4