Unabashed performances, near impeccable direction and a memorable script combine to make The Wolf of Wall Street one of 2013’s best movies.
This film has two stars. The first? Director Martin Scorcese, who reminds us that he’s a filmmaking genius. By employing a camera that never stops moving when the script necessitates high energy, but stays perfectly still in more introspective moments, Scorcese constantly sets and changes tone however on-screen events demand.
His musical choices do the same. He is wise enough to silence his soundtrack during the most thematically poignant moments but to call attention to it in the most plot-crucial scenes, sometimes using brief snippets from multiple songs in a single sequence.
He and his editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, do the same in cutting the movie. When the film is at its most origastic, cuts come rapidly, but when it is quieter, shots and takes are extended.
In other words, like Thomas Vinterberg of The Hunt and Alphonso Cuaron of Gravity, Martin Scorcese masterfully calibrates every element of his film to produce a cohesive whole.
The Wolf of Wall Street’s other star? Leonardo DiCaprio (Jordan Belfort). In a masterful performance, DiCaprio captures high-energy desperation with equal parts emotion and physicality. He might not be the year’s best male lead, but he’s not far from it.
Jonah Hill (Donnie Azoff) and Margot Robbie (Naomi Lapalgia) highlight an impressive supporting cast. Both could receive award recognition for their complex portrayals of flawed people.
The rest of the cast is strong, as well.
Terrence Winter’s screenplay is equally excellent. It develops central characters, keeps the pace rolling and consistently focuses on conflict. Even better, it employs heavy-doses of voice over perfectly.
Plus, the script is hilarious. This film is as laugh out loud funny as any other 2013 comedy, despite its heavy content.
Yet, The Wolf of Wall Street has a few minor flaws. Start with characterization of supporting female characters. Margot is well developed as a cash grabbing trophy wife wiling to tolerate no end of misbehavior so long as she remains wealthy, but she is the only female with any personality.
In a related issue, The Wolf of Wall Street never lets us identify with Agent Denham (Kyle Chandler), whose subway ride might be the most powerful moment in the film, his bit-player-status notwithstanding. Had Scorcese and/or Winters featured Denham more prominently, we could have rooted for Belfort’s antagonist. Which, as an ancilliary benefit, would have fueled the picture’s themes.
Finally, while The Wolf of Wall Street judges Jordan Belfort’s excesses and the ease with which society lets him recover from his mistakes, it glosses over the ill effects of his crimes.
But these are all minor flaws. The Wolf of Wall Street is a terrific film that satirizes the excesses of wealth and highlights possible social inequity in stratified financial classes. It earns any and all award recognition it might receive.