Based on the book of the same name, The Wolf of Wall Street stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan, following his rags-to-riches-to-rags tale of Wall Street stardom. Jordan is no anti-hero, however. Though charming, he lacks all self-control and morality. He lives by no code and cares for no one but himself. And Leo becomes ever more entertaining to watch as he falls further down the rabbit hole.
This plays as both a strength and weakness for The Wolf of Wall Street. Never have I seen such epic scenes of increasing depravity. The film makes a game of outdoing itself in scenes of excess and shock value. So much gratuitous nudity, sex, drug and alcohol abuse, and deeply lewd behavior can be found here that the MPAA just had to have been bribed or blackmailed to let this pass with an R rating. The film does an excellent job of exemplifying the excesses of the filthy rich (emphasis on the filthy). As entertaining as this exposé is, though, it detracts from the film as a whole. The focus on faithfully depicting the more risqué aspects of its source material make the rest of the plot seem a little thin: Jordan doesn't arrive on Wall Street a drug-addicted, sex-obsessed alpha male, and I wish more time was spent on his transition into the Wolf, as well as the consequences when it all starts crumbling down.
While the dramatic beats aren't perfect, the comedy hits hard. This is the funniest movie I've seen this year. The behavior and situations that Belfort and his cohorts become embroiled in are absurd and darkly comic. This helps keep things interesting throughout the 3-hour runtime. The characters are often more like caricatures than real people, another strength and weakness of the film. Yet even though the characters’ behaviors are clearly exaggerated at points, it’s hard not to leave the theater uneasy at the thought that there may be real powerful Wall Street elites out there who engage in some of Jordan’s outrageous behaviors.
If you're a Scorsese fan, you'll find a lot to like here as the film is shot in classic Scorsese fashion. DiCaprio is backed by a very strong and talented supporting cast; Jonah Hill gives a terrific performance as Donnie Azoff, one of Jordan’s associates. And Matthew McConaughey steals the show during his all-too-brief appearance.
The Wolf of Wall Street is all about excess: over-the-top performances, enormous shock value, and a long runtime. The dramatic scenes are presented well, but they could have benefited from more exploration of the characters and their inner dialogue. However, the comedy makes up for those shortcomings and pulls us through to the very end. This probably isn't the movie to go see with your family on Christmas Day, unless you're comfortable sitting next to your parents while watching Leonardo DiCaprio snort coke off a hooker’s ass, but it’s definitely worth seeking out when you have the opportunity.