The Wolf of Wall Street is contemporary-classic Martin Scorsese, rich with graphic obscenity that would make even a Taxi Driver fan squirm, telling a vibrant story in the spirit of GoodFellas.
Leonardo DiCaprio gives a knockout turn as a Jordan Belfort, young man who is seduced by the power and possibility of the financial market, and learns how to dupe those naive enough to believe in it. Wolf inverts the basic rags-to-riches narrative with an antihero like Belfort, who is self-made as far as driving his own success while exploiting those around him.
The screenplay by Terence Winter is noteworthy for its ability to explain complicated financial scenarios, like pump & dump and the concept of penny stocks, among others, in a clear, engaging way without feeling preachy or too informative. If you can’t keep up, it doesn’t really matter, but it makes the film a hell of a lot more interesting.
This film rises above mere goodness and becomes great, however, through its handling of this story. Belfort is not evil or exceptionally privileged; he knows how to make a sale, and how to make people believe in the power of the American market. The ending is so exciting and chilling, implying that we all have the potential to become a Jordan Belfort, and deep down a life of excess and exploitation is our American Dream.
The Wolf of Wall Street is exciting and unapologetic, less about exposing the inner workings of Wall Street than presenting the ultimate American fantasy…if only we could get away with it.