When the Mega Millions recently topped out at $600 million plus, I joined the rest of America in churning out my twisted fantasies of riches beyond my imagination and everything I could possibly do if those magic little numbers would roll out my way. My list, made mostly in jest yet undoubtedly fueled by an unspoken desire for more than simply "enough," looked something lke this:
- Of course, I'd have to quickly check out of my current urban dwelling where I've been broken into twice even before I have a decent penny to my name. If word got out that I'd hit the lottery, I picture every gangbanger within a mile knocking down the front door in a "kick the paraplegic" free-for-all.
- I'd get myself a full-time nurse, but not just any nurse. She'd be one of those B-movie nurses with the crispy white uniform, the perfectly placed little white cap, and white hose hose slightly covering those impossibly long and gorgeous gams of hers.
- I'd have a gold-plated wheelchair, because I could.
- I'd probably start an independent movie studio and make movies with the likes of Amy Adams and Meryl Streep and anyone else I'd ever wanted to meet but who would be unlikely to give me even a second glance right now.
- I'd have perfect teeth and perfect hair and the perfect penis and, heck, if it's remotely possible I'd even find a way to get my feet back.
The list goes on and on.
But, of course, I didn't win the Mega Millions and I'm still setting my home security system every single night in the faint hope that what little stuff I have managed to acquire in my working class life won't fall into someone else's hands.
I definitely don't have a full-time nurse and most days spend hours just trying to get dressed and hoping that my body holds itself together until I get myself comfortably back home.
My wheelchair? $300 off of Ebay. Because I could.
Hey, at least I have an independent film website. I'm fairly sure that Amy Adams and Meryl Streep have never checked out my reviews and they've definitely never set down for an interview.
Perfect teeth? Um, I don't think so. Perfectly thinning hair. The perfect penis? The Oompa Loompas consider it the consummate appetizer. Feet? Stumped so far.
We all have the fantasy and Jordan Belfort lived it. As we learn early on in Martin Scorsese's Belfort-inspired The Wolf of Wall Street, Belfort made $49 million the year he turned 26, a number that pissed him off because it ran $3 million shy of $1 million a week. In the late 80's and early 90's, Belfort was kicking it off with a career selling penny stocks in dungy boiler rooms before moving up into the big leagues by turning his own penny stock practices into Stratton Oakmont, a just as depraved firm with a bigger vision and much nicer office digs in Long Island.
As soon as I swear to you that the three-hour investment of time necessary to fully immerse yourself in this decadent world that director Martin Scorsese has created is incredibly worth it, I have no doubt that some whiny ass schmuck will come along complaining about the film's running time or its relentless decadence or its unapologetically balls to the walls embrace of Belfort and his legion of cronies, but for those of you adventurous souls who are willing to completely give yourselves to Scorsese's vision you'll be rewarded with one of his best films and damn near perfect performances from his entire ensemble.
For those familiar with the financial news, and it must be stressed that The Wolf of Wall Street is based upon a true story, it won't be surprising that before long Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) would see his empire start to crumble when his seemingly overnight success attracted the attention of the F.B.I. and Belfort would eventually end up serving a mere 22-months in a federal prison largely for his refusal to cooperate with a massive fraud case involving widespread corruption on Wall Street and in corporate banking up to and including mob infiltration.
Fantasy meets the real world.
In The Wolf of Wall Street, Scorsese is relentless in his depiction of how the money rolls and the world of unchecked greed that allows it to do so. It's fairly astounding that with his 23rd feature film, the 71-year-old director has achieved such frame-by-frame cinematic perfection, a film that lives and breathes Belfort's story like it's both holy grail and pariah.
Amidst it all, Leonardo DiCaprio is both preacher and profiteer, a man whose unquestioned slickness and dedication to prosperity makes you follow his every word and beat and vibe. It's a joy watching DiCaprio in the film's early scenes as he's taken under the money-bagged wings of a cocaine-fueled fund manager, awesomely portrayed in an extended cameo by Matthew McConaughey, then watching as the student becomes the teacher and DiCaprio's Belfort first aligns himself with the brilliant Jonah Hill's Donnie Azoff, who transforms from blue-collar average joe to Belfort's right-hand man and most trusted confidante. Australian actress Margot Robbie makes a star-making turn here as Naomi, Belfort's trophy wife and, at times, ever so slight bit of conscience.
The supporting performances are gems across the board with Scorsese doing a stellar job of aligning everyone into his vision for the film, a vision that is far bolder and far funnier than one might expect from a director almost universally acclaimed as one of the best of today's active filmmakers. While The Wolf of Wall Street may very well be Scorsese's best film since Goodfellas, and that includes his Oscar-winning The Departed and the quieter gem Hugo, it's more like a cousin to Scorsese's greatest films with brilliantly manifested humor and scenes that could have gone so incredibly wrong yet play out to near perfection.
Again, it helps that DiCaprio surrenders himself onscreen like he's never really surrendered before. DiCaprio's turn as Belfort is simultaneously funny, sad, daring, courageous, vulnerable, brash and just plain freakin' awesome. DiCaprio pulls off scenes in this fifth collaboration with Scorsese that almost no actor could manage to pull off, with stunning physicality in his comedy that embellishes scenes and extends scenes and leaves you gasping at the end of scenes wondering "Did they really make that work?"
They did. They really did.
The Wolf of Wall Street neither judges the gross excess it portrays not ever truly embracing it. Instead, Belfort is brought magnificently to life in such a way that one completely understands the hypnotic spell under which he placed those around him and those souls unfortunate enough to have crossed his path and trusted him with their life savings. Yet, by also sprinkling Belfort with twinklings of fairy dust and sprinklings of humanity he becomes almost a fire-breathing dragon amidst a world where the strongest survive, both Puff the Magic Dragon and a variation of Smaug.
In his infinite wisdom, Scorsese ends it all where it began and you get the not so subtle idea that he's not, in fact, disparaging the institutions of greed that surround us but, in fact, the people who create them.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic