Given: Martin Scorsese ranks among the greatest filmmakers of all time. Given: Leonardo DiCaprio ranks among his generation’s finest actors. Question: together, can they make The Wolf of Wall Street worth watching?
“What?” you may be asking. “Why is this even a question?”
It’s a question because The Wolf of Wall Street tells the story of absolutely terrible human beings. The film knows they’re terrible. They characters know they’re terrible. How does one invest in the stories of a bunch of people who, if they were all incinerated in a nuclear inferno at the end of the second act, would leave the viewer thinking, “Serves ‘em right?”
One invests because Martin Scorsese is an undisputed master of the art form of motion picture creation, and Leonardo DiCaprio is an absolutely brilliant actor and movie star who can find something compelling in even the most loathsome of characters.
The film traces the rise and fall of DiCaprio’s salesman, stockbroker, and felon as he learns to the keys to amassing enormous amounts of wealth through means illegal, unethical, and, well, just plain evil. It’s a cry of rage against an industry that crashed the American economy in 2008, costing untold numbers of people their jobs, their savings, and their homes while its executives reaped ever-larger bonuses. The film doesn’t go into the specifics of 2008 – in fact, it ties DiCaprio and his cohort into other shenanigans. But the rage is the same.
So why watch two+ hours of rage? Because Scorsese knows who to frame a scene, how to build tension, how to craft a narrative in such a way as to keep us on the hook. And DiCaprio, man, this guy is amazing. He gives a charismatic, snakelike, evil performance that is absolutely riveting. Even when he’s at his most evil, duping some unsuspecting schmuck out of his money and, quite possibly, jeopardizing the guy’s marriage, you can’t help but watch him. This is an actor at the height of his powers, and you must respect the craft.
Does all this mean that you have to see The Wolf of Wall Street? I don’t know – I’m not here to sell you anything. All I know is that this film brings together serious talents and presents a compelling narrative. If that’s your thing, and you don’t mind a little rage, have at it.