Quentin Tarantino recently pointed out that with most directors there’s a notable falling off of quality as they get older. That their last three films are often their worst. And it’s true that with most directors that’s the case. Martin Scorsese is currently 71 years old, and is a notable exception. The Wolf of Wall Street is one of his best films. It joins such established masterpieces as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas in the upper echelon of his work, and it’s the best performance that Leonardo DiCaprio has ever given.
Hit the jump for my Wolf of Wall Street Blu-ray review.
Told from his perspective, Wolf follows Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) in his rise to power. After trying to make it with a major brokerage firm, he created Stratton Oakmont due to his ability to sell penny stocks (generally bad bets) to rich clientele. Belfort’s a great salesman, so much so that his neighbor Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) quits his job to join up with him, while Jordan recruits a number of his friends from the neighborhood to join his start up. Once he gets everyone trained on how to make sales, the business keeps expanding, and with the classy brand of Stratton, quickly everyone is rolling in money, which they can only think to waste in creative ways. This also means that Belfort goes from his first wife Teresa (Cristin Milioti) to a new trophy wife in Naomi Lapaglia (Margot Robbie).
With no lands left to conquer, Jordan and his friends try to find new ways to make more and more money, and that involves insider trading. So straight-shooter FBI Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) is keeping an eye on Jordan. As well he should, Belfort does all sorts of illegal activities, and has a big plan to get money into a Swiss bank account because he knows there could be a time where he’ll have to flee America. As it must, everything eventually crashes down around Jordan.
The film presents its message early on when Belfort has lunch with Mark Hanna (Mathew McConaughey), who tells him that their only job as a stock broker is to make money for themselves. His advice is to start doing cocaine and to jerk off more and more. To become an animal. And the film showcases all of Jordan’s perversions, which means hiring stippers and hookers for his staff, and paying a secretary ten grand to shave her heads (but don’t worry, the money is going to a boob job). Everyone loves drugs, and though cocaine is definitely in play, Jordan’s favorite are quaaludes, which is great for the movie, as it’s a drug that hasn’t been overexposed like marijuana or cocaine, so it gives the film a different energy.
The Wolf of Wall Street is Scorsese’s longest film, running seconds shy of three hours, but you never feel it because the entire movie is so entertaining and engaging. Though it mostly covers incidents in Jordan’s rise and fall, the sense of detail, of the truth of the events is captivating. DiCaprio goes on narration tangents, and it’s those details that pop out. From a sequence that talks about a coworker who ends up committing suicide, to an exploding plane there are so many sequence that deliver funny and revealing details. But you also have a filmmaker like Scorsese firing on all cylinders, and using every trick he’s learned over forty years of filmmaking.
But also this is one of the few films to deal with Wall Street, and the animal it is, and what these brokers did to America. Belfort might be seen as an outlier, as someone who functions outside of the norm, but as McConaughey’s scene suggests, he may have more outrageous in his activities (though perhaps not). In one of the best scenes in the movie… in one of the best scenes of 2013, Jordan is given an out and is about to accept a plea deal to leave his company behind. But he can’t do it. In that scene he puts the spotlight on a coworker Kimmie, who came to the job broke and asked for money to keep the lights on at home. It’s a powerful sequence because Jordan obviously helped this person, and got them out of poverty, but also that person has lost her soul in the process, and you realize that in this scene Scorsese lays out his feelings about these people. They’re all compelling (but terrible) snake oil salesmen. One of the details that becomes apparent in a second viewing is that she’s one of the names that Jordan gives up when he has to do jail time. So there’s only so much love.
Performance-wise, everyone is bringing their A game here. Newcomer Margot Robbie is spectacular as Naomi, and you would never guess that Robbie is an Aussie from her flawless accent. She’s called on to do a lot of nudity, but she’s more than just a beautiful woman or a trophy wife. Jonah Hill deserved his second nomination for his work as Donnie. He’s a freak, but a loveable one. While Kyle Chandler is so perfect. In his first scene with Jordan, when they meet on the boat, you get to watch these two master performers play off each other in one of the best played, best written scenes in a long, long time. You can see them size each other up in unexpected ways, and the performers keep throwing different curveballs at each other. And again, DiCaprio is at his best here. Where he’s done good work for Scorsese in the past, this film plays on his good looks and charms, and his borderline douchebag/enlightened bro aura and makes them work for him.
The Wolf of Wall Street was easily the best film of 2013, and probably the only reason it hasn’t ranked higher is that it was made by a master after years of great movies. But as time passes, it’s going to be the sort of film people and critics are going to return to again and again. This is Scorsese’s most watchable film this side of Goodfellas. It’s a masterpiece.
Paramount’s Blu-ray would not lead you to that conclusion as the film only comes with one supplement. The film is presented in widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio. It looks and sounds amazing, and the set comes with a DVD and digital copy. The only extra is “The Wolf Pack” (17 min.) which is a pretty generic making of. Though the studios don’t do much of it, I’d kill for a double dip on this one.