What would you do with a $100 bill?
Deposit it in your bank account, perhaps; or maybe buy that new sweater you’ve been eyeing for a while. If you’re Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), however, the bill is perfect as a crumpled wastebasket ball—or for snorting cocaine. In DiCaprio and director Martin Scorsese’s fifth film together, the cocaine lines run long, while, unfortunately, the depth of the experience falls short.
Belfort is the drug-loving lead in Scorsese’s financial caper The Wolf of Wall Street. The film follows the stock wizard as he sweet-talks his way into the pockets of his clients, using the illicit cash for heavy substance-infused sex parties. And yet there’s a cloying sweetness to Belfort’s words. As he stands in the middle of the cash-filled carousels dancing on screen, those around him take on the ugly look of their personalities, even as wads of bank notes fall from the sky.
The movie begins with the sleek visage of a lion—Belfort’s image of choice for his firm, Stratton Oakmont. An animated lion appears on screen, prowling the offices of Stratton in a searching swagger—which is exactly what Belfort does throughout the movie. Money, drugs, pleasure; these are the stimulants that Belfort seeks in this colourful orgy of a film.
Drugs of all kind fill the screen from start to finish: grainy lines of cocaine, habitual pills, and of course Quaaludes, the party drug of choice for the crazed suit-and-tie lechery that follows Belfort in his 25-hour days. Scorsese depicts the blurred minds of the characters perfectly through the antics on screen—office sex parties and drugged helicopter landings are but a few examples of this “Walled world.” Yet the best example of The Wolf of Wall Street’s temperament is Belfort himself. Scorsese has the millionaire walking on a razor-thin edge throughout the movie, with soul-grabbing speeches layered with bouts of manic emotion.
DiCaprio—spectacular as Belfort—is the face of the film, lending his signature voice to the character’s effortless salesman abilities. We are not the only audience DiCaprio speaks to; throughout the movie, he wrenches, twists, and caresses the hearts of the Stratton employees in easy manipulation, raking in cash for Belfort and capturing our admiration in one smooth swoop. Jonah Hill stars alongside DiCaprio as Donnie Azoff, Belfort’s unstable right-hand man. DiCaprio and Hill have an instant chemistry on screen—the two are genuinely funny, adding an extra dimension to the busy scenes.
But beyond the flair of naked prostitutes, fantasy parties, and overpowering drug use, The Wolf of Wall Street falls flat. Even the humour fails to mask the empty message the movie attempts to send. Scorsese and DiCaprio spend so much time having fun on screen that any deeper implications to Belfort’s actions fail to hold any weight. The three-hour film is one hour too long, and is short another key character to balance the script. As it stands, the movie is a DiCaprio monologue, which loses the power of its potential attraction to viewer fatigue.
The Wolf of Wall Street is based on the real-life Belfort’s memoir by the same name. Belfort spent 22 months in jail, and is now a successful motivational speaker. While it is clear that the film tries to portray his insular financial world as ridiculous and absurd, the lack of a strong denouement only serves to highlight Belfort’s successes and his enjoyable run at the top of the monetary food chain.
Ultimately, The Wolf of Wall Street is a confetti of drugs, prostitutes, and cash that fails to leave any meaningful lasting effect. DiCaprio and Hill are spectacular, but in the end, they are merely the sweet-talking salesmen guiding you through your Quaalude-cocaine-trip. When you emerge from the haze, you are left with nothing but the memory of DiCaprio’s silky voice and a hot blur of confetti.