Wolf of Wall Street is a howling good time

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Films based on real people are often subject to scrutiny over their accuracy – the artistic license taken with the story and what either did or didn’t happen. Several movies tend to be criticized for fictionalizing what purports to be “a true story” and adding/omitting certain facts. The Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorsese’s latest film, examines one of the most notorious businessmen in American history, and it is hard to believe that most of it, if not all, is based on fact.

Set from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, Jordan Belfort, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, goes from being a naïve, wide-eyed intern to an egomaniacal businessman and party animal. He quickly learns many traders take cocaine and Quaaludes to function on Wall Street. After receiving his stockbroker’s license, he loses his job due to “Black Monday” and has to start over.

Undaunted, he sets up a new company called Stratton Oakmont out of a garage in New Jersey. They start an illegal “pump and dump” scheme of buying up stock and selling it to investors, who end up taking a substantial loss while the brokers make a profit.

Eventually Belfort’s hard partying and lifestyle begin to cause problems. Meanwhile, an FBI agent, played by Kyle Chandler, begins to examine Belfort’s activities and launches an investigation against him.

DiCaprio’s performance is one of the film’s main highlights. Whether appearing sympathetic or unlikable, he carries the plot with passion and an energetic vigor – often turning to the camera to explain his actions to the viewer. Several scenes show him engaged in tender love scenes, throwing alcohol-fuelled bashes or flying a helicopter while on prescription drugs and these are only a few of the film’s craziest moments. The only problem concerns the 39-year old actor’s age, because he looks slightly too old to play the younger Belfort during the film’s early scenes. Despite not being boyish, DiCaprio’s demeanor and enthusiasm allows him to make Belfort somewhat likeable than other scrupulous businessmen like Bernie Maddoff.

The rest of the cast deliver strong performances throughout the film. Jonah Hill provides comic relief as Belfort’s protégé Danny, but his role bears too many similarities to his past work in Moneyball and 21 Jump Street. Margot Robbie is likeable in a role that could have been written as the stereotypical “trophy wife,” but she holds her own during a confrontation scene with DiCaprio over his behaviour and drug use. Chandler’s FBI character acts as the foil to Belfort, but he doesn’t get much screen time to establish a presence.

Rob Reiner has a hilarious turn as Belfort’s loud, profane father, allowing for some amusing exchanges with DiCaprio and Hill. Matthew McConaughey appears in a brief cameo role, but he provides one of the film’s more light-heated moments with his chest-thumping tribal chant ritual

At first, Scorsese’s frantic fast pace feels jarring, but it seems appropriate for the cutthroat, high-stakes world of business. Having worked with Scorsese since Goodfellas, Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing shows the stress and surrealism of Belfort’s hard partying and drug-taking through jump cuts and long takes. Shot on traditional film, the cinematography is beautifully lit with a wide variety of colors.

With regard to accuracy, the film tends to exaggerate or invent a number of sequences, such as a dwarf-tossing contest or bringing a chimpanzee into the office. In addition, Belfort was never openly called  “the Wolf” during his heyday. However, several scenes- including a helicopter’s near-crash and the swallowing a live goldfish – have been confirmed to have taken place.

The Wolf of Wall Street is one of Scorsese’s best films, as well as being one of his most outrageous projects to date. Despite clocking in at almost three hours, the movie flies by at a smooth pace. While some may be offended by the extensive drug and sexual material, the content demonstrates how indulgent and wasteful people can be in the pursuit of wealth.

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