The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) Film Review, a movie directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, Cristin Milioti, Kyle Chandler, Ethan Suplee, Spike Jonze, Rob Reiner, Shea Whigham, Jean Dujardin, Joanna Lumley, Christine Ebersole, and Ben Leasure.
A director’s name in cinema carries a significant weight with critics, actors, and audiences. A series of success — financial or critical — can earn a director enough goodwill that flawed films will be overlooked and even celebrated.
Few names carry the same weight as Martin Scorsese who already has a film legacy that places him among the handful of best directors of all time. Films like Casino and Goodfellas and Raging Bull mark the man as a genuine living legend.
His newest film, The Wolf of Wall Street, imbued with flash and style, skipped over film fundamentals and produced a deeply flawed bit of artwork that will not stand the test of time. This film will not hang in a museum along the previously mentioned masterpieces.
What the film shares with those previously mentioned, is its deep character study of a flawed human being. In this case, the titular character is Jordan Belfort, a real life criminal, stock broker, author, and motivational speaker upon which the film is based. Belfort is a fascinating character, highly successful, highly motivated, and like the film that tells his story, deeply flawed.
Belfort starts from nothing and rises to becoming absurdly wealthy by motivating those around him to sell, sell, sell, no matter what. With financial success came the personal cost of all the excesses of Wall Street, unflinchingly chronicled, earning a R rating like few films have. Belfort does everything to excess and so does the company he founds with co-conspirator Donnie Azoff played by the always interesting Jonah Hill. The two have great chemistry together and for a long while they hold the film together along with the rest of the excellent cast.
Of particular note in that regard is Australian beauty Margo Robbie as Belfort’s wife Naomi Lapaglia and Kyle Chandler as FBI agent Patrick Denham.
As The Wolf of Wall Street walks its leisurely pace through its much-too-long three hours, the excellent performances are wasted in the midst of the film’s weaknesses. Scenes that seem to lack any sort of pacing with an audience in mind also take the viewer right out of the film with in-your-face continuity errors.
In one scene Belfort lays at the top of a flight of brick stairs, high and helpless to get to his car for the short drive home. The scene consists of several cuts of the stairs and DiCaprio and inexplicably, it becomes clear, jarringly clear to the viewer, that the length of the staircase changes shot to shot. Four stairs or 14? While Belfort is incapacitated by drugs in the scene, viewers will not have the same luxury.
In a pivotal emotional scene where Belfort throws his first wife and the film’s sole innocent aside for his beautiful new love interest, a limousine manages to appear and disappear repeatedly, depending on which camera angle is used. Instead of feeling the sobering realization that Beltfort is hurting the people he loves, audiences are left to wonder just what the hell is going on.
Like the incredible excesses of a man that nobody can say no to, Scorsese’s movie can’t escape its own excesses. Little scenes pepper the three-hour running time that don’t move the film forward. Individually they work for characterization and/or humor but they bog the film down. They drive home the point over and over that “hey, these guys are rich” and “these guys use drugs and enjoy sex and hookers.” The message was clear long before the film stopped reveling in its own celebration of living large in the 1990s.
In fact, there seem to be some similarities between Scorsese and Belfort. Each has enough clout and power that nobody can tell them “no.” Its too bad, because with sharper editing and with forty minutes trimmed, there is something akin to a masterpiece inside The Wolf of Wall Street. Make no mistake, the film does have some exceptionally entertaining moments, some excellent, funny dialog, powerful film-making, and uniformly great performances, but there is too much movie to sort through to find it.