At 2 hours and 59 minutes, this is officially Martin Scorsese’s longest film to date. In that run-time we spend time with characters performing acts beyond vulgar, beyond repulsive, beyond any sort of morality. But it’s all the while gripping and fascinating for us to watch. I could have happily watched another 2 hours and 59 minutes of this film.
The plot follows the exploits of Jordan Belfort, who became a ridiculously wealthy stockbroker in the 90s, only to have it all fall apart due to the same criminality and debauchery that got him there, ending in federal prison.
Leonardo DiCaprio always brings a captain level of commitment to his roles, but here he takes it to new extremes in arguably his most convincing role to date. The depths of depravity he was willing to go to in this film was mightily impressive. Matthew McConaughey continues the McConaissance with a very entertaining bit part as Belfort’s early mentor. Jonah Hill continues to stretch his great abilities as Donnie Azoff, Belfort’s right-hand man, giving without a doubt his best/most insane performance of his young career. Margot Robbie is convincing in her role as Belfort’s blonde model wife Naomi, and Kyle Chandler, while brief was solid as the FBI agent Patrick Denham, whose assigned to bring Belfort down.
Martin Scorsese directs the film with as much excessiveness as it’s characters, fueling the pace as if on the same drugs Belfort indulges in, with great help from frequent collaborator/editor Thelma Schoonmaker. All the while he makes the audience complicit with the narrative. It’s a trait employed before in “Goodfellas” and “Casino”, and this film could be viewed as a narrative bookend to an unofficial trilogy with those previous films. But in this film the distance between the narrative and the audience’s participation is only a dollar-width thin. And I’m not saying that as a criticism. Even at it’s most flinching moments I had to admire the sheer excellence of filmmaking occuring.
The film certainly won’t be able for most audiences to stomach with a clear conscience, and that’s perhaps the greatest trick the film pulls. It sucks you in with Belfort and his lifestyle and empire that he’s built, only to find yourself questioning your own morality by how far you were willing to follow him down the rabbit hole of Quaalude and strippers. And the final punch that he lives a comfortable life now as a motivational speaker is made all the more impactful, enraging and thought-provoking because of it all.