Sunday, December 29, 2013

Leo Wows in The Wolf of Wall Street

       Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese have formed a bond throughout the actor's career: Leo was the main man in 2002's messy but entertaining Gangs of New York, he starred as the mentally ill Howard Hughes in 2004's The Aviator, he was the major part of the great ensemble cast in 2006's The Departed, and he provided a haunting performance in 2010's Shutter Island. In Scorsese's new film, The Wolf of Wall Street, Leo stars as Jordan Belfort, an aspiring stockbroker who builds a company up from scratch to become a money-raining powerhouse. It's the best role of his career. Before seeing Wolf, it almost seemed like the Best Actor of the year award was a lock with Chiwetel Ejifor's portrayal in 12 Years a Slave. Not anymore: DiCaprio goes absolutely crazy in The Wolf of Wall Street, dominating every single scene with a drug-fueled excitement that makes the film one of the best of the year.
     The Wolf of Wall Street is a film that takes you by surprise: from watching the trailers that have been plastered over television screens for the past couple of months, you might think that it's a film about stockbrokers and big money deals. And it is about that too. But it's truly a story about addiction to drugs, addiction to sex, addiction to excess in general. It's a frenetic ride that--even with clocking in at just one minute under three hours--does exactly what every movie should do: entertain the shit out of us.
     Like many Scorsese films before it, Wolf helps us along the story with a cocky voiceover from its main star. Belfort begins his journey (after losing his entry-level stockbroker job on Black Monday) selling penny stocks at a sketchy backroom operation. He's a natural. He soon befriends Donnie (Jonah Hill, showing again that he is a damn fine actor), and they decide to form their own firm with a group of ragtag misfits that have experience selling drugs and scamming people. It doesn't take long before the group starts getting rich and the firm expands exponentially.
     The Wolf of Wall Street is packed tightly with vulgarity, sex and drugs. Everyone is high or naked in nearly every scene. There are gay and straight orgies, bathtubs worth of cocaine and enough Quaaludes taken to tranquilize an elephant. It might become overwhelming with a less skillful director: but Scorsese--at 71 years of age--is a master at taking lives of excess and turning them into cinematic gold. His signature use of music with editing and his masterful cinematic techniques keeps our interest peaked throughout the entire run time of the film. The group makes a lot of money as the firm grows--then they make more than they know what to do with. All of the drugs, yachts, hookers, and alcohol don't even make a dent in their bank accounts. But like Ray Liotta's character in Goodfellas, the higher these characters--especially Jordan--climb amidst a smorgasbord of illegal activity, the more attention it draws to The Man trying to bring you down.
     The FBI takes notice of the firm, and they assign a boy scout agent (Kyle Chandler) on the scene. It provides a couple of great scenes with Jordan, who thinks he can out maneuver the FBI since he's been winning at life for years. Jordan starts trying to figure out how to hide all of his money before it's too late. He gets too cocky, as characters like these always do, and it sets in motion drug-and-alcohol-fueled downfall that is epic in proportion and shocking in its depiction.
     The Wolf of Wall Street is such a wacky and wild ride. I'm almost out of breath just writing and thinking about it, it moves at such an insane pace. And it mainly comes back to Leonardo DiCaprio's performance; it's so damn full of energy: whether he's snorting boatloads of coke, drunkenly dancing up a storm at his wedding to a gorgeous model (like in the gif above), or getting hot wax poured on his back by a violent stripper, Leo lets us unabashedly love this charming jerk of a man. The Wolf of Wall Street is an epic story of American excess showcasing the best acting performance of the year.     (A)

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