“No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride…and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well…maybe chalk it off to forced consciousness expansion: Tune in, freak out, get beaten.” Hunter S. Thompson
Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) is nothing more than Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in a fitted suit. Both stories retell the story through the inebriated mind of the criminal protagonist who’s in pursuit of an unreachable destination: The American Dream. Instead of the sleazy, sunburnt cascade of Las Vegas, we’re thrown into the concrete jungle of New York City– the city known for its lack of care and compassion. But which dream is it, you ask? The dream of becoming insanely rich. So rich, so quick that it couldn’t possibly be true and definitely not legal. Sell your soul for an early retirement. Why see your child when you can see your yacht? The plan is to out trick the trickster. Then when caught, deny the whole thing.
Martin Scorsese has proven his ability to transcend genres through his ability to capture his audience’s attention at every turn. In The Wolf of Wall Street, Scorsese has again teamed up with his regular title-card actor, Leonardo DiCaprio (The Departed (2006), The Aviator (2004), Shutter Island (2010), and Gangs of New York (2002)) for the fifth time and created his darkest comedy to date. In both The Aviator and Shutter Island, DiCaprio was tasked with playing the manic sociopath. Instead of saving his own urine or choosing to be a mental patient, Dicaprio knocks it out of the park with his bewildering and drug-enriched portrayal. Just remember that this entire story is based on fact.
Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) is a young man trying to make a name for himself on Wall Street. Not long after losing his job for a large reputable firm, he spins off and creates a new sector of investing. This sector utilizes Belfort’s greatest asset which is his ability to sell to people by tapping into a part of the psyche where people are most vulnerable – their hopes and dreams. He cons those looking for a sweet deal. The deal that is too good to be true. Those who only have a few thousand in savings and no retirement in sight. Belfort knows that people’s greed will eventually overtake their ability to think critically and when they do he will be there ready to pounce.
Once the dreams have been plundered, the fun can begin. Parties and drugs. Women and boats. At times, The Wolf of Wall Street feels more like a advertisement for cocaine use. Need a lift? Cocaine. Need to sell more stocks? Cocaine. Need something to even out your quaaludes? Cocaine. Cocaine – the miracle drug. I would say that coke should get a supporting acting credit for how much it brought to the table.
Soon enough, the drugs begin to weigh on people’s judgement and poor (i.e. more illegal) decisions continue to be made. Belfort decides to branch out. He creates a monster in his own image: a firm in Manhattan trading penny stocks. He diversifies his liabilities by opening offshore accounts. The success is publicized, but unlike Belfort’s gullible ‘investors’ the FBI knows when an investment is too good to be true and can smell the spoiled meat leftover from ‘The Wolf’.
My favorite scene is when the FBI agent (Kyle Chandler) is confronts Belfort on his million-dollar yacht for a casual discussion on why the FBI has been so interested on Belfort’s dealings. To paint the scene, once FBI agent Patrick Denham and his partner are welcomed aboard, there are two skimpily clad women, a buffet, and all the drinks you could imagine. What begins as a casual discussion, turns into a discreet and cheeky bribe by Belfort, and the ‘aww-schucks’ mentality of the FBI turns out to be part of the ploy. Belfort realizes he screwed up and loses his composure.
Still, for Belfort, the only crime is getting caught. He begins to blame others’ weaknesses and stupidity for his eventual downfall. Never once accepting the blame for evaporating millions in others’ retirement funds. His menace and straight lack of compassion is always expertly placed at the forefront. For all the credit that DeCaprio has gotten, I feel a lot more needs to go to the director.
Scorsese includes two scenes that are completely unforgettable. In their meticulous debauchery, you are unsure whether to laugh or be disgusted. Quaaludes instigate the disasters. Both scenes are as austere and unsettling as Jonah Hill’s teeth; at the same time, the scenes are so well choreographed that Scorsese’s vision shines. The energy jumps from the screen and into your lap (or up your nose).
Although the story reaches unbelievable heights, it isn’t until there’s an ill-timed drug overdose that the film manages to achieve its fever pitch. Things unravel and individuals’ true colours come to light when the money begins to dry up.
The pure insanity of the story has Gonzo in its marrow. Rising above the insanity there is a story wrestling with its morals. But you simply realize that story has no morals. There is no soul. It is nothing more than a buzzed weekend stroll through the desert and into the board room. Still, it is a drug you will not forget.