Revered filmmaker Martin Scorsese directs the story of New York stockbroker Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio). From the American dream to corporate greed, Belfort goes from penny stocks and righteousness to IPOs and a life of corruption in the late 80s. Excess success and affluence in his early twenties as founder of the brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont warranted Belfort the title – “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Money. Power. Women. Drugs. Temptations were for the taking and the threat of authority was irrelevant. For Jordan and his wolf pack, modesty was quickly deemed overrated and more was never enough.
The Mafia has long been Martin Scorsese's domain, with gritty films like 'Mean Streets,' 'GoodFellas,' 'Casino,' and 'The Departed' providing inside looks at the ruthless realm of organized crime and its iron-fisted kingpins. Though 'The Wolf of Wall Street' explores an entirely different universe in an entirely different tone, it could easily stand alongside those American classics, because the culture of greed, power, indulgence, and corruption it depicts is interchangeable with that of the criminal underworld. The hungry packs of wild, unscrupulous animals who run the financial empire feast on the trusting masses, manipulating and trampling them in a mad rush to pad their personal coffers. And back in the era of excess - the 1980s - nothing was out of bounds, nothing was too much or too outrageous, and nothing could stem the inflated egos and insatiable libidos of the elite stockbrokers who subsisted on a steady diet of sex, drugs, and money to fuel their mojos. It was an absurd, extravagant, contemptible, and oh-so-seductive world, and Jordan Belfort - who began his career in 1987 - quickly became its poster boy.
Belfort's riveting train-wreck story - much like the odyssey of mobster-turned-informant Henry Hill in 'GoodFellas' - is that much more captivating because it's true...or as true as someone who made millions lying, cheating, and swindling would have us believe. And 'The Wolf of Wall Street,' adapted by Terence Winter from Belfort's salacious memoir, presents that "truth" in the spirit of its "hero," an egotistical, arrogant prick in the Gordon Gekko mold, who charms us and plays us the same way he charms and plays his ignorant customers. Belfort made his fortune hawking penny stocks, largely worthless investments that yield huge commissions, and his earnings helped him create a massive brokerage firm that defrauded countless investors and funded Belfort's unbelievably lavish lifestyle, before zealous federal investigators brought him down. Like Jordan, Scorsese's film is out of control and over the top, a wicked yet searing black comedy that instantly hooks us with titillating and taboo imagery and drags us on a wild three-hour ride through the basest elements of humanity. Some have found it offensive...and it is. It's also brilliant.
Brilliant because Scorsese knows that world well, recognizes its inherent ridiculousness, and lays it out on the screen in a manner that both nostalgically celebrates and incisively skewers it. 'The Wolf of Wall Street' is a hysterically funny film that satirizes its subject and all its defining elements - the wild parties, macho sensibility, cult mentality, and lewd behavior - while making a serious statement about its destructive and unconscionable nature. It's rich and rambling and raucous and revolting, packed with memorable dialogue and distinguished by dazzling style. And, like a speeding juggernaut, it moves, embracing the go, go, go timbre of the times, barreling ahead and taking no prisoners along the way. Wall Street in the '80s and '90s was an exaggerated world, and Scorsese tells Bellfort's exaggerated story in an exaggerated fashion. Cruder than 'GoodFellas,' but with the same sense of wonder, Scorsese opens our eyes to a culture we may have read or heard about, but never experienced. And this vicarious immersion is an absolute blast for those who view the film in its proper context.
Jordan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a "lower than pond scum" everyman who becomes a superman, quickly rising through the ranks, using his wiles and guile to play a heady game by his own set of renegade rules, manipulate the system to his advantage, develop a legion of devoted disciples, and build a formidable business where only the almighty dollar is more fervently worshipped than he. Jordan could be you or me; he didn't necessarily set out to live a psychedelic fantasy or become the Jim Jones or L. Ron Hubbard of Wall Street, but circumstances and his own ambition created the opportunity and he embraced it. And watching him live it up and screw it up - especially as depicted by Scorsese - is terrifically entertaining.
Much has been made of the movie's rampant vulgarity - its 500-plus f-bombs, copious amounts of coke snorting, lude popping, and full-frontal female nudity, mistreatment of midgets, and an especially shocking scene of masturbation (although the part of Jonah Hill's penis was played by a prosthetic). Yet vulgar culture can't be sugarcoated, and Scorsese wisely doesn't hold anything back, immersing his audience in a world most of us can't fathom - one that's as strange, alien, and crazily wonderful as Middle Earth or outer space. And like he does in his Mafia films, Scorsese makes this counter-culture fascinating, even appealing. This is the American Dream on steroids, a story that encapsulates everything that's right and wrong about our country, and while we don't condone how these snakes swindle, abuse, disrespect, and deride average joes, we love watching them work their larcenous magic, then take comfort in their downfall. Like 'Little Caesar' and 'The Public Enemy,' 'The Wolf of Wall Street' depicts a lofty figure's rise and fall, and is both a classic morality and cautionary tale, yet unlike those Prohibition-era gangster yarns, it's a serious film that doesn't take itself seriously.
Though the Academy felt differently, DiCaprio should have won the Best Actor Oscar for his bravura portrayal of the greedy, lustful, and egomaniacal Jordan. Impeccably measured yet wonderfully natural, DiCaprio channels his inner asshole and makes this jerk likeable, even endearing. Without losing weight or gaining weight or undergoing any against-type, award-baiting transformation, he embodies this character and disappears inside him. It's a passionate, full-throttle performance that inspires tremendous admiration for this versatile actor's underrated talents. It's tough to believe we live in a world where Matthew McConaughey can win an Academy Award before DiCaprio, but such are the fickle ways of Oscar.
Ironically, McConaughey has a small part in 'The Wolf of Wall Street,' and he milks it for all it's worth. As the eccentric, chest-thumping mentor who tells a young Jordan cocaine and masturbation are essential job accoutrements that keep one sharp and relieve stress, he steals his few brief scenes, making an indelible impression and crafting a performance that eclipses his work in 'Dallas Buyers Club.' Jonah Hill is also terrific as Jordan's gluttonous right-hand man, whose voracious appetite for all things illegal helps ignite this incendiary tale.
This is the fifth time Scorsese and DiCaprio have collaborated, and it's unquestionably their finest effort, the perfect marriage of director and project, actor and role. Here, they bring out each other's best, and their symbiotic relationship makes the film's engine purr. 'The Wolf of Wall Street' always will be controversial and will surely spark some spirited debate. It's the type of film you either love or loathe, but whatever your opinion, its artistic merit remains undeniable. It may not be a masterpiece, but it's certainly a masterwork by one of the finest craftsmen in Hollywood history.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Wolf of Wall Street' arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case inside a glossy sleeve. A 50GB dual-layer disc, standard-def DVD, and a leaflet with instructions on how to access the Digital HD Ultraviolet copy reside inside the case. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and default audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the full-motion menu with music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.
Crisp, clean, and vibrant, 'The Wolf of Wall Street' video transfer beautifully showcases the lavish interiors, exotic exteriors, and all the film's chaotic mayhem. The eye-filling 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 rendering is largely free of grain, and no nicks, marks, or scratches dot the pristine source material. A warm glow and polished sheen lend the image a lovely richness, while excellent contrast and clarity enhance the sense of depth. Background elements are always easy to discern, shadow delineation is strong, and patterns and textures possess plenty of presence.
Blacks are bold and inky, whites are stable and resist blooming, and fleshtones remain natural-looking throughout the lengthy running time. Colors flaunt lovely saturation levels, with vivacious reds and mellow blues coming off best, although pastels exude a nice creaminess that slightly softens the picture. Razor sharp close-ups highlight fine facial details well, and no digital doctoring seems to have been applied. Banding, noise, and pixelation are all absent, too.
There's a lot of bling and razzle-dazzle in 'The Wolf of Wall Street,' and this exceptional transfer showcases the yachts, mansions, and penthouse apartments in all their glory. Even the dingy settings look good. Fans of the film will be thrilled with this superior effort that truly makes Scorsese's canvas come alive.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track isn't as active as I might have hoped, but its excellent modulation unifies all the sonic elements into a cohesive whole and provides a satisfying aural experience. Surround activity ebbs and flows, with potent accents bleeding into the rears especially during the wild party scenes, episodes of office chaos, and, most notably, the turbulent yacht storm sequence. Other than that, the majority of sound remains anchored up front, but it's enhanced by some noticeable stereo separation and a purity of tone that allows subtle nuances to shine. The wide dynamic scale handles the bright highs and weighty lows with ease, while keeping distortion at bay, though the subwoofer doesn't get much opportunity to strut its stuff.
Scorsese almost always augments his movies with a soundtrack of eclectic tunes perfectly paired to the on-screen action, and the songs, which range from Billy Joel and Eartha Kitt to Bo Diddley and Devo, all fill the room with ease, thanks to exceptional fidelity and marvelous tonal depth. Dialogue, however, fuels the film's engine, and it's reproduced well here. Whether whispered or shouted, delivered in a quiet room or amid the roar of a poolside bash, the expletive-laced lines are always clear and comprehendible.
Though not quite reference quality, the lossless audio complements the film well, and there's enough varied activity to keep the ear engaged. Good job, Paramount.
Sadly, only one extra adorns this disc. A collection of outtakes and deleted scenes would surely yield a wealth of fascinating material, a gag reel would have been a hoot, and one of Marty's insightful audio commentaries most definitely would have provided essential insights and perspective, but alas, none of that is included here. Typical of the unscrupulous greed that defines Wall Street and U.S. commerce, it's a safe bet we'll see a loaded special edition down the road.
Featurette: "The Wolf Pack" (HD, 17 minutes) - Substance comes at a premium in this slick, classy featurette, but it's elegantly presented, contains cogent comments from almost every principal cast member and producer, and features lots of behind-the-scenes footage. An articulate DiCaprio anchors the piece, and in addition to lauding the cast and crew, calls 'The Wolf of Wall Street' "one of the most enjoyable experiences I've ever had." Most of the participants praise Scorsese's philosophy and artistry, talk about the unpredictable atmosphere on the set, and recall the enormous amount of improvisation that occurred during shooting. Scorsese shares his thoughts as well, and it's always a treat to hear this iconic director discuss his work. Though far from essential viewing, this featurette is breezy and entertaining, and fans will enjoy checking it out.
Nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, and Adapted Screenplay, 'The Wolf of Wall Street' stands as my favorite film of 2013. This epic chronicle of greed, larceny, bad behavior, and the heady, destructive trappings of excess charts the rise and fall of both a man and an era with an attitude as cocksure as its eponymous character and plenty of Scorsese panache. Brash, bold, and searingly funny, this often shockingly depraved black comedy keeps us transfixed throughout its three-hour running time, thanks to Leonardo DiCaprio's dazzling portrayal, Terence Winter's audacious, expletive-laced script, and Scorsese's pitch-perfect treatment of the subject. Paramount's Blu-ray presentation skimps on supplements, but features terrific video and solid audio, both of which bring the film to brilliant life. If you're easily offended or at all prudish, it might be best to skip this wild and crazy ride, but for everyone else, this raucous, riveting motion picture comes very highly recommended.