This may be the highest-velocity three-hour movie ever, a delirious and borderline addictive wash of adrenaline, testosterone, and controlled substances.
Based on the memoirs of the real-life Belfort, the story follows his meteoric rise from a penny-stock broker operating out of a strip mall in the late 1980s to a twenty-something tycoon, complete with mansions, a lingerie-model wife, a yacht nearly the size of the QE2, a helicopter, and two bodyguards—“both of them named Rocco.” Oh, and drugs and hookers. Lots of drugs and hookers. The latter he estimates he frolicked with five or six times a week on average. The former included Quaaludes, Adderall, Xanax, Pot, Cocaine (of course), and morphine “because it’s awesome…”
This is an excessive film about excess, and a movie about appetites whose own appetite for compulsive pleasures seems bottomless.
Imagine the last thirty minutes of “GoodFellas” stretched out to three hours. That’s the pace of this movie, and the feel of it. It’s one damned thing after another: stock fraud and money laundering; trips to and from Switzerland to deposit cash in banks (and give the increasingly wasted Belfort a chance to flirt with his wife’s British aunt) ; rock-and-pop driven montages with ostentatious film speed shifts and some daringly protracted and seemingly half-improvised dialogue scenes that feel like tiny one-act plays.
The directorial high point is a Belfort-Azoff Quaalude binge that spirals into comic madness, with Azoff blubbering and freaking out and stuffing his face and collapsing, and Belfort suffering paralysis during a panicked phone call about his money and then crawling towards his car like a nearly-roadkilled animal, one agonizing inch at a time.
The jangled story line sticks close to Belfort’s perspective. We’re introduced to a unreliable narrator right at the beginning, when he tricks us with the red car or white car bluff. His voice guides the action, and Scorsese’s freewheeling direction captures the autobiographer’s raunchy, discursive vigor.
Scorsese unleashes a furious, yet exquisitely controlled, kinetic energy, complete with a plunging and soaring camera, mercurial and conspicuous special effects, counterfactual scenes, subjective fantasies, and swirling choreography on a grand scale. He also introduces a great device to impose the protagonist’s point of view: Belfort narrates the action even while he’s in the midst of living it, addressing the camera with monologues that show him to be both inside and outside the events, converging on-screen his present and former selves.
The Cinema of Excess
Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer… and nothing is more difficult than to understand him.
The most polarizing topic regarding this movie has been it’s portrayal of life of Jordan Belfort. How are we supposed to Jordan’s actions ? Do we envy him, or loathe him… ?
Is this a morally abysmal movie which completely ignores his crimes and in a way, glorifies his lifestyle ?
The answer to all of the above is for you to decide… To put it plainly, it’s devoid of moralizing.
The perfect sequence which explains this point is the interaction with the FBI agent, Patrick Denham, on Jordan’s yacht in New York harbor. A sober fellow, Patrick is meant to represent not just the law but also moral sanity and decency. Jordan, who buys everything and everyone, sees in Patrick a guy who rides the subway, whose balls are always fucking sweaty, who wears the same suit 3 days in a row… in short, a loser.
They discussed the fact that Denham actually applied for a broker’s license and whether he thought how his life could’ve taken a turn similar to Jordan’s, to which he says, “Who wouldn’t ?“
Wolf of Wall Street wants you to take a certain voyeuristic joy in it all, because it never wants you to forget how easy it is for anyone to give into those temptations. There is no comforting distance between you and Jordan; if things went differently in your life, you might have been Jordan. The movie could have shown Patrick happily going home to his wife and children, realizing that the life he chose was the correct decision after all. But it purposefully didn’t. And that’s the genius of Scorsese.. !!
Scorsese doesn’t stand over your shoulder doling out judgement to the characters on screen, because in real life there is no story or message to watch over your life to reward you for doing good and punish you for doing evil. When the time comes for you to choose between what is right and what is easy, nobody will be there to condemn you nor forgive you besides yourself.