Review: “The Wolf of Wall Street” is inappropriately brilliant

Kate Marinkovich, Author

Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” is arguably the most talked about (and most criticized) film of 2014. Even if you haven’t seen it, it’s entirely likely that you’ve heard about it: the sex, the drugs, the record-setting usage of the f-bomb. I went in with the same predispositions, expecting a film almost equivalent to porn with an actual plot line inferior to that. I was wrong (sort of).

“The Wolf of Wall Street ” tells the true story of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio): a New York stockbroker who founded Stratton Oakmont, a corrupt stockbroking firm dedicated to stock market manipulation through fraudulent stocks. Belfort candidly narrates his story, beginning in 1987 when he was first hired on Wall Street, to 1998 when he is convicted for his crimes.

In 1987 Belfort is hired by an established Wall Street stockbroking firm and his boss (Matthew McConaughey) gives him the advice that would eventually dictate his entire life: have a lot sex, and make cocaine a priority because with that lifestyle, he would find the greatest of Wall Street success. In a short period of  time Belfort transforms from a “perfect” student and employee (one who had never touched cocaine nor would ever imagine having sex with anyone but his wife), to a sex-addicted, cocaine-driven, money-obsessed business man, as he climbs the corrupt ladder to success alongside his business partner Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill). His story follows this transformation, and more importantly the development of arguably one of the most corrupt stories in Wall Street history.

I was entranced. Despite feeling the urge to walk out of the film due to dramatically explicit content on multiple occasions, I couldn’t. Every element of the film fit together in the most brilliantly inappropriate way and I walked out of the theater both impressed and satisfyingly uncomfortable.

The screenplay is derived from Belfort’s memoir (also titled “The Wolf of Wall Street”), and it is inappropriately endearing. Here’s why: Belfort is one of the top federal criminals in modern American history, and the film glorifies him in such a way that left me forgiving him for all his wrongs. While this characteristic is what makes the film so addicting it is also my main critique. The film itself does not tell the true story of Belfort because it tells him as a hero rather than a criminal. The only character in the film who doesn’t consistently idolize him (regardless of any wrongdoings) are the FBI agents that are investigating his case. Anyone who saw the movie with no previous knowledge of Belfort’s story would leave the theater inaccurately informed.

It goes without saying that this films “R” rating is stretched to the absolute maximum. There was sex (and quite a lot of it). More than sex there was just a lot of naked people. At times it was embarrassingly overwhelming and it always had me thinking, “Is that too much?” Usually, yes, it was but it wasn’t what made me most uncomfortable.

What did occasionally urge me to leave was the excessive drug use. Belfort is addicted primarily to cocaine and quaaludes (alcohol and other recreational hard drugs too, but those were the worst), and how they portrayed this addiction was disgusting. His highs came at all the wrong times (on purpose of course), and it made the film uncomfortable and painful. But then I ask myself, would the plot have worked without it? No, probably not. All the elements of the film (disgusting or otherwise) combined to create a delicious product, one that kept the audience in their seats for the entire three hours. 

The reason all these elements combined so well, however, is the immaculate performance by DiCaprio. He earned the Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role and he deserves it without argument. DiCaprio sold his character to the audience. He portrayed Belfort in such away that turned the sex/drugs/profanity into a natural part of the film rather than an “extra,” added to shock audiences and increase speculation. His performance in the film further earns him his spot as one of the best actors of this generation, and it is entirely deserving of an Academy Award.

Another performance deservingly acknowledged by the Academy is Hill’s. He is nominated for Best Actor in a Support Role for a performance so uniquely brilliant by him. Hill is a comedic hero in every sense of the definition, and this characteristic is highlighted in the film, but in an unusual way. His character is dark, but in very subtle ways and Hill captures this essence without flaw. His performance compliments DiCaprio’s perfectly, and the two combine to persuasively sell a story that should be impossible to sell.

Scorsese earned the nomination for Best Directing, and the film is also nominated for Best Picture, both without argument. Everything lined up correctly because of Scorsese limitless and provocative directing, and that earns the film’s nomination for Best Picture.

If your predispositions have put you on the fence over whether or not to see this film, I say make the jump. See it because it is a brilliant film, whose flaws don’t define its cinematic greatness, rather enhance it. It is worthy of every award it has won thus far, and well qualified for its potential Academy Award wins.

“The Wolf of Wall Street”

2 hours, 59 minutes

Release December 25, 2013

Rated: R for graphic nudity, drug use, language throughout, some violence and strong sexual content

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler