Right now director David O. Russell is about as close as anyone’s come to making a Martin Scorsese film with American Hustle. But when Scorsese himself directs a new film, there’s nothing else like it in theaters. And just when we thought Scorsese had been playing it a little safe after winning Best Director and Picture among many other things for The Departed (see Shutter Island and to a lesser extent Hugo), he’s back where he belongs in a world of seedy loveable criminals with the big screen biopic of Jordan Belfort’s The Wolf of Wall Street.
This is the over-the-top true story of Belfort’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) rise to glory in the corporate banking world and, of course, on Wall Street. His first big day on the job happens to be on October 19, 1987 (known as Black Monday), but all this is after he gets more advice than he could have asked for from Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), who tells him success lies in cocaine, masturbation, and hookers. Something Belfort eventually takes completely to heart.
Moving on to penny stock trading, he decides to take his friends and form his own business. Eventually making millions, developing one hell of a drug habit, and leaving his wife Teresa (Cristin Milioti) for Naomi (Margot Robbie). Living the dream of excess is the name of the game, until FBI agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) comes knocking. From here, Belfort begins a downhill slide into ruin, while getting taken down by the one person he should be able to trust the most, Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill).
Everyone performs at the top of their game, including Scorsese. No one makes a movie like he can, even if Russell seems willing to give him a run for his money. Originally running four hours long, Scorsese has trimmed the film down to 180 minutes that fly by faster than most 90 minute comedies could ever dream. DiCaprio is amazing as always, keeping the faintest hint of humanity floating beneath the devilish surface. And anyone who complained about Jonah Hill being nominated for Moneyball can eat their words with how fantastic he is here. Even Margot Robbie as Naomi, manages to steal scenes away from DiCaprio proving that being good looking doesn’t mean you can’t act. But if all she could do was look good with her clothes off, what would she be doing starring in a Scorsese film?
Things really fizzle in the final few scenes and should have ended about five minutes sooner — blame could probably rest on screenwriter Terence Winter — but it also could be Scorsese and editor Thelma Schoonmaker working in overdrive to get the film edited for the Christmas Day release. And on that topic, there are always odd Christmas release choices —typically of the horror variety — but this certainly fits in as well. It was reported that on top of the bloated runtime, the MPAA was going to slap the film with an NC17 rating. Considering the amount of nudity, sex, and drug use still in the film, I can’t even imagine how much more there could have been before. A few scenes start to feel pornographic but are played more for laughs which is probably how they kept within an R-rating.
A particular scene near the end has DiCaprio and Hill hopped up on expired Quaaludes is one of the funniest and intense scenes of the year; a true showstopper. In fact, most of The Wolf of Wall Street plays this way with one scene after the other seeming to want to top the previous. When Scorsese releases a film, of course it’s going to be one of the best of the year, and hopefully, it will see its share of nominations come Oscar time. Is it the best film of the year however? I’m still tied up between American Hustle and 12 Years a Slave. But believe me, The Wolf of Wall Street is certainly a doozy and it’s nice to see that Scorsese still has the magic behind the camera.