In 2008, when America was on its knees, economically bloodied and bruised, Wall Street became the target of our ravenous epithets. It’s not that we didn’t recognize the absurd greed running rampant in the financial capital of our country, but we likely overlooked the douche bag debauchery because it’s a place where we believe financial prosperity exists. The promise of wealth, or the very acquisition of the American dream through investments, is a seductive proposition. Because of this, our dreams suffocate reality; forcing our minds to bludgeon rational thoughts into submission. Unfortunately, we poured our own blood into the water, inviting predators in for a snack they simply couldn’t resist. By the time 2008 rolled around, we were already dead. Now, Wall Street isn’t entirely devoid of human beings, but there have been more wolves than Red Riding Hoods in its storied history. One of Wall Street’s most influential and destructive forces was Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), a cunning stockbroker with a silver tongue and an insatiable monetary hunger . In many ways money was his addiction.
Jordan’s ascension begins in the late 80s, where his first job on Wall Street, under the guidance of stockbroker nut Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) , teaches him that success has a positive correlation with masturbation and cocaine breaks. Success comes quickly for Jordan but he eventually loses his job after Black Monday. Unable to find a worthwhile job, but refusing to give up on his dream of being someone important, Jordan brings his persuasive personality to a company that specializes in selling penny stocks to delusional schmucks looking for their piece of the American dream. Jordan’s tenacious tactics pay dividends, as he corrals a small fortune preying on the meek. Noticing Jordan’s impressive cash flow is Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), a salesman that’s looking for a charmed life. When Jordan teams up with Donnie to form a new company, one composed of salesmen who are morally and mentally stunted, fraudulent activities feed the growth of a billion dollar juggernaut. Jordan simply doesn’t care who he’s hurting in the process, a notion that becomes all too clear when he destroys two marriages. All he wants is a vast fortune, one that will feed his unshakable need for drugs and hookers. Even when the FBI and SEC are knocking on his door, Jordan has no time for regulations and honesty. His hubris wont allow it.
As you can likely discern, Jordan’s existence revolves around excess, a fact Scorsese delivers incessantly. There is rarely a moment in the film where Belfort, or his group of mongrels, are sober or not partaking in some degrading act. Whether it’s an office orgy or Belfort blowing cocaine into a hooker’s ass, an act I highly recommend, Scorsese provides us with a look into the circus known as Wall Street. Scorsese’s vision for the film is certainly unflinching, with the film being one of his most colorful and brazen cinematic exercises. Each scene is irreverently bursting off the screen, often challenging us to keep our eyes affixed to the ridiculous world on display. But Scorsese’s lack of restraint has received some derision from critics and filmgoers. Many people claim Scorsese is celebrating the ugly acts of assholes, not condemning them. I wholly disagree with that sentiment. With The Wolf of Wall Street, Scorsese is only providing us with the canvas, we provide the judgment. Admittedly, the drunken debauchery on display also provides us with a collection of hearty laughs. Once again, the film’s comedic elements don’t embrace the indignities of our characters. If anything, our laughs are daggers of humiliation aimed for the sheer stupidity on display.
And the man absorbing most of our discontent is Leonardo DiCaprio. His performance as Belfort is impressively dynamic. Never has Leo been this charismatic, repulsive, and downright funny. It’s refreshing to see an actor embrace his character’s depravity, especially an actor who doesn’t normally wear the skin of a serpent. An unhinged Leo is absolutely entertaining, but he also perfectly captures the rhetoric Belfort used like a rapier on his employees and customers. In scenes where Belfort stands in front of his company of minions, DiCaprio effortlessly delivers sermons that pick apart the insecurities of a human being like a buzzard pecking away at an animal carcass on the side of the road. DiCaprio is enchantingly vile throughout, so is Jonah Hill as his partner in crime. Hill impressively matches DiCaprio’s energy and gusto, absurd line for absurd line. DiCaprio and Hill’s performances are elevated by Scorsese’s dismissal of inhibition. Scorsese, with his fluid camerawork and raucous energy, actively places us in America’s financial cesspool. There are no heroes and retribution in this film; only monsters using your money to fuel their indulgences.