Devon Seltzer’s review published on Letterboxd:
Featuring more joyous lawlessness then The Bling Ring, more decadence then The Great Gatsby, more depravity then Spring Breakers, and more hustling then American Hustle, Marin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street is gleeful in its criminality, unabashed in its glamor, proud of its debauchery, and merciless in its cynicism.
The Wolf of Wall Street tells the story of real life stock-mogul Jordan Belfort from his bright eyed days learning the trade to his founding of a garage brokerage, all the way to his meteoric rise to the heights of wealth few could ever dream of. Along the way we experience the highs and lows of Belfort's career, rife with drugs, lust, and greed.
I think this is the first time this year that I have walked out of the theater completely confounded. I still don't quite know whether or not I liked The Wolf of Wall Street, on one hand it features some true brilliance, on the other it was often completely alienating. I almost feel that it was Scorsese's intent to befuddle, after all, here he presents the story of a man who is, for lack of a better word, horrible, yet for all the evil we see him and his cohorts do, he is still given plenty of strong, humanizing moments. The very idea of a stock broker is equally grey, presented as the kind of person who would steal your last cent, but who would also help a stranger off the street send their kid to school.
This is probably where my main conflict arises, the film spends a long time painting Belfort and his firm as the very incarnation of Caligula's Rome, they sleep with anything that moves, snort or swallow anything they can get their hands on, and toss money away like it's pizza crust. Yet then Belfort is given a scene in which he tearfully reflects on his friendships, and another where he saves a friend's life, he is constantly shown as a charitable, kind man, when he isn't being shown as a monster. Normally I would compliment the film on depicting people as they really are, but here the extremes are so broad that it's hard to see these characters as anything but caricatures.
The characters aren't the only things that are broad in this movie, the actors inhabiting them are equally so. It almost feels like half of the cast was told they were in a serious crime drama and the other half a wacky comedy, with Leonardo DiCaprio being the only one let in on both sides. You have Kyle Chandler's deadpan, humorless FBI agent, busting down the door on Jonah Hill, here let completely off the leash, stumbling around giggling and eating fish. The two moods conflict quite often with each other, sending you from laughter to horror at the drop of a hat. DiCaprio himself straddles this fence the whole film, presenting some really stellar, emotional acting, before getting stoned and trying to remember how to roll down stairs.
Don't get me wrong, I found much of the movie hilarious, but I was also extremely off put by the filmmaker's endless attempts to shock me. So much of this just raw meanness could have been cut from this over-long movie. How many scenes do we need of overt sexual harassment, or endless streams of homophobic dialogue, or midget jokes, or Hill's just plain, raw cruelty by eating someone's pet fish. As I said before, the film spends countless minutes showing us just how unlikable these people are, and then tries to make us like them.
Writing this review has done nothing to clear the water for me, I still don't know if I liked the movie or not. I know I spent most of this review ragging on it, but I really did like a lot of it too. As mentioned, I found a lot of the humor worked well, DiCapiro was great, when he calmed down, as was most of the cast from Rob Reiner to Jean Dujardin, the direction was fine, the pacing was solid, but I'm not sure if I can look past the hyperactive, overly indulgent nature of the picture which at times felt more like a music video then a narrative. Too bad I don't have a trash can full of hundreds, then I could pay someone else to figure it out for me.