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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

The Wolf of Wall Street | Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Kyle Chandler, Margot Robbie | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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The Wolf of Wall Street | Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Kyle Chandler, Margot Robbie | Review

When a film begins with oral sex (woman on man) in an ascending glass elevator as a cackling man-crowd looks on from the ground floor, you don't have to wonder what tone it's trying to set.  Vulgarity, debauchery, and recreational, narcotic excess leak from these cinematic frames like bodily fluids from the guys at Stratton Oakmont, a shady brokerage firm run by former penny-stock swindler Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio).  Matthew McConaughey has a small but crucial scene as Belfort's mentor and inspiration.

This could easily qualify as director Martin Scorsese’s “Badfellas.”  With Henry Hill-style narration from Belfort, boastfully recounting his excessive lifestyle and fast-talking salesmanship, it’s full of white collar crime, bribes, orgies, dwarf-tossing (lobsters, too), full frontal nudity, cocaine, strippers, Quaaludes, hookers, and a smorgasbord of depravity.  AND, it’s nearly three hours long.

Greed and sleaze go on an extended date as Belfort’s story unravels almost as much as his morals.  The porn prerogative only escalates when Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) teams with Belfort in business, but gives him a run for his mountain of money for the wild man of the Market title.  Both drink, drug, and debauch their way through life in the late 80’s and early 90’s, finding sobriety boring and adrenaline rushes from cocaine to be the preferred state of being.

For some reason, the constantly philandering Belfort feels the need to marry twice, his first wife tossed aside for model Naomi (Margot Robbie) who can put up with the cheater in exchange for the lavish lifestyle.  Everyone’s compromised.  No one’s sympathetic.  Well, maybe the FBI agent (Kyle Chandler) who vows to bring Belfort to justice.

Terence Winter (Boardwalk Empire) adapts Belfort’s autobiography with an epic gleefulness that is matched by DiCaprio’s ferocious immersion into the lurid, Lamborghini-smashing mindset of the marauding, crooked multi-millionaire.

For his part, DiCaprio is believably hedonistic and amoral, sometimes charismatic, drugged into a limp, boneless coke-head when he has to be, and willing to be sloppy and disgusting at times – a great piece of acting in a film all about getting a piece of the action, whether it’s money or ass.  

For his part, director Martin Scorsese (The Departed, Hugo, Casino) willingly rolls around in the sleaze and misogyny, embracing a distasteful vulgarity that is unnerving because his storytelling mastery is so far above that of say, a Judd Apatow.  But then, Jonah Hill, an Apatow disciple whose dramatic performance in Money Ball expanded his repertoire as a promising young actor, exposes his penis in one of the many scenes of the rabid frenzies of excess.

It’s not the subject matter as much as the director’s treatment of it, choosing salacious over sophisticated (yes, you can have bad behavior and sexual excess in a sophisticated manner – see Boogie Nights).  The lingering camera hammers in a message of objectification as a rite of entitlement, erasing any cautionary tale pretense along the way.  

Yes, this might have all actually occurred, but do we HAVE to see all of the lurid details?  More celebratory than cerebral, if there’s a message here it’s one of idealizing Belfort for what he got away with instead of what he got caught (and slapped on the wrist) for.

Scorsese is so much better than this.

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