The Wolf of Wall Street: Money, Sex, Quaaludes (and Scorsese at His Best)
Every once in a while, there's a perfect sequence of film. The part with the plane in North by Northwest. The accidental gunshot in Pulp Fiction. The Raiders of the Lost Ark truck chase. 2001's zero-g workout scene. The beginning of Up. Blade Runner's tears in the rain. Buster Keaton. The POV tour of the bar in Scorsese's Goodfellas. And now there's another from Scorsese: It's in The Wolf of Wall Street, and the only thing I'm going to say about it is that it will hereby be known as "The Quaalude Scene."
The Quaalude Scene is excellent, and what makes it even better is that it fits into a movie full of many other excellent sequences. A good number of these sequences also involve quaaldues—or cocaine, or booze, or hookers, or Lamborghinis, or the worthless stocks that are sold, over and over again, by the coke-snorting, booze-sucking, prostitute-fucking, Lam- borghini driving, douchebag stockbroker Jordan Belfort.
Belfort—upon whose self-aggrandizing and possibly mostly true memoir The Wolf of Wall Street is based—is played by Leonardo DiCaprio, oozing charisma and entitlement. Belfort—who first ripped off average schmucks, then moved up the food chain to prey on the 1 percent—downs a pharmacy every morning before leaving the mansion. Once he's at the office, he gives his employees window-shaking pep talks, basking in their cheers as he lords over them from his stage in his boiler room, a place that's "equal parts cocaine, testosterone, and bodily fluids."
Backed up by his right-hand man Donnie (Jonah Hill, in horn-rims and capped teeth, and even better than he was in Moneyball), Belfort sells an illusion of wealth—and when he's on top, he hands out prostitutes and little people to his employees (the prostitutes are shared, the little people strap on helmets before getting thrown at a bull's-eye), shows off his trophy wife (an unexpectedly fantastic Margot Robbie), and first tries to bribe, then tries to dodge FBI agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler). Denham—impressed by neither Belfort's yacht nor the helicopter parked on top of it—knows Belfort is breaking a whole bunch of laws. The question is how long it'll be until he gets caught.
While Belfort and his desperate, cash-slobbery pals do their best to redefine debauchery, Scorsese blows the roof off the goddamn place. After Shutter Island, Hugo, and Shine a Light, it was easy to worry that the 71-year-old director was ossifying, but The Wolf of Wall Street annihilates those concerns. This is a movie that's funny and alive and furious, and it's as good as anything Scorsese's ever done. The Wolf of Wall Street often feels like a live-action cartoon, outsize and ludicrous, but Scorsese is not content with that: When Terence Winter's screenplay turns dark and intense, Scorsese doesn't let up.
The Wolf of Wall Street clocks in at three hours, but feels too short. Toward its end, things get less chaotic and more plotty, Scorsese's razor-sharp cuts start to dull, and the rumors of an original longer cut start to make more sense. Given the film as a whole, that's a meaningless quibble, and here's a better way to look at it: When The Wolf of Wall Street ended, I wished there was more of it. And that's the best compliment I can give to a movie about a douchebag.