‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ Review

Published 1 year ago by , Updated October 17th, 2014 at 9:22 pm,

Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street 2013 The Wolf of Wall Street Review

The Wolf of Wall Street is an outrageous and repugnant reflection of something very real – and very rotten – at the core of our society.

The Wolf of Wall Street transports us back to late-1980s/early-1990s New York City, where Queens boy Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) has been tirelessly working since his youth to achieve the American dream: getting filthy rich in the financial services industry. Unfortunately, Jordan’s debut on Wall Street came at a time when the market was going through one of its biggest downturns, leaving the hungry and ambitious young man in a career wilderness with no sense of direction.

Looking for a path through the woods, Jordan sniffs out work at a small penny-stock firm – a place filled with the type of schlubs who have never seen a real wolf at work. Within months Jordan is making money hand over fist, and he quickly moves on to a grander vision: opening a trading firm composed of his buddies and other roughneck salesmen who don’t mind swindling people in pursuit of personal gain. But with drugs, money, women and all-around excess overflowing his life, Jordan’s reign as “The Wolf of Wall Street” is soon threatened by a coup d’état led by a relentless FBI agent (Kyle Chandler).

Kyle Chandler in The Wolf of Wall Street 2013 The Wolf of Wall Street Review

Kyle Chandler in ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’

Marking the fifth collaboration between master filmmaker Martin Scorsese and leading man Leaonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street is nothing less than a brilliant and nightmarish  portrait of the true face behind America’s greed culture, which manages to impress, amuse, offend and outright terrify – often all at once. It does to the tribal circle of the financial services industry what Goodfellas did to the tribe of the Italian mafia – and arguably does it better than Goodfellas (certainly better than the similarly themed American Hustle).

On the surface, The Wolf of Wall Street is a black comedy character study that is soaked in grime. Adapted from the memoir of the same name by the real Jordan Belfort, the script by Boardwalk Empire creator Terrence Winter uses voice-over narration as a framing device (like Goodfellas) in order to allow Belfort’s story to unfold “in his own language,” so to speak. Both the voice-over narration and scenes of ensemble dialogue are rattled off with an acerbic and foul-mouthed frankness that is almost poetic in its sheer level of crassness – and also darkly funny for a surprising amount of the film’s 3-hour runtime. As far as raunch-comedies go, this is one of the snappier and wittier ones made in a while – who knew Scorsese and Winter could beat the Farrelly Brothers at their own game?

Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street 2013 The Wolf of Wall Street Review

Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’

However, in the hands of one of the most masterful visual storytellers there is, what is a raunch-com/biopic on the surface is transformed into something much more significant and relevant. Behind the lowbrow façade, Wolf of Wall Street is actually a brilliant deconstruction of the Alpha-dog, “Kill to eat” mentality that not only drives Wall Street, but has become, in some ways, the driving philosophy of America’s modern greed culture. A sharp critical eye will notice the seams of great filmmaking at work – including the implementation of thematically relevant pop-culture staples (songs, films, etc.), as well as visual motifs and metaphors meant to convey the deeper thematic subtext of the film.

For example: there is a reverse point-of-view shot of Belfort’s acolytes gathered in front of him that recurs throughout the film – a crowd which evolves from a handful of blue-collar schmoes in an old garage to (eventually) a packed hall full of admirers from all over the world. Much of the film is likewise sequenced according to circular experiences of manic debauchery the characters engage in over and over – starting in the high-fantasy of hedonistic allure, but slowly devolving into a macabre and perverse circus of  amoral indulgence and grotesque behavior.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street 2013 The Wolf of Wall Street Review

Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill in ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’

However, even during the most disgustingly raunchy or absurdly bizarre sequences in the film (see: those soon-to-be-infamous quaaludes scenes), there is some sort of visual or auditory evidence that this is all being done with clear purpose and intent. This film pushes things way past the point of decency – past the point of envy or admiration but never believability – and that’s the entire point of the commentary.

By the time Belfort goes through his inevitable fall (and subsequent resurrection), the man has become something so grotesque and off-putting that the lack of character development in the script can clearly be seen as a binding and damning statement – a frightful declaration that says, “Here America, this is your dark heart!” in much the same way that Daniel Plainview had thoroughly horrified us by the time he made his declaration of being “finished,” while squatted in his own slovenly mess.

In the case of The Wolf of Wall Street, the most frightening thing is not that this all happened (it did); or that it happened this way (it did); it’s that it might be (read: definitely is) still happening this way: the perverse mania the movie showers us in hasn’t been cured at all – it’s become an airborne contagion that is globally widespread and all-encompassing. To paraphrase Gordon Gekko, “Greed is good, and now it seems it’s legal,” and judging by WoWS, we should all be fundamentally terrified about that reality.

The Wolf of Wall Street Reviews starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill 570x294 The Wolf of Wall Street Review

The new messiah

Serving as the embodiments of this mania that has defined an era, are Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill in the central roles of Jordan Belfort and his longtime friend/associate, Donnie Azoff, respectively. Both actors are tasked with occupying their extensive screen time with an almost non-stop burn of manic debauchery, expressed through vocabulary that would make a pirate blush. Hill continues to prove that his abilities extended well beyond low-brow comedy; though to be fair, it could be argued that his role – with its banter and absurdity – is exactly that. Still, he’s great in it, and steals scenes left and right whenever he’s in them.

Leo has the more complicated task of balancing the grotesqueness of Belfort’s personality with  moments of real charisma and insight – as well as the dry wit and meta comedy employed by the version of Belfort who narrates the tale. DiCaprio shines bright on all three fronts, without question.

Margot Robbie in The Wolf of Wall Street 2013 The Wolf of Wall Street Review

Margot Robbie in ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’

The supporting cast is a mix of breakout performers (Walking Dead star Jon Bernthal as a Belfort’s friend/bag man, or Pan Am star Margot Robbie as a trophy wife vixen); a few hilarious and winking cameo roles (Matthew McConaughey as a Belfort’s Wall Street mentor, or Rob Reiner as his hot-tempered father, to name a few); and a few reliable actors bolstering some key supporting roles (Kyle Chandler as the FBI agent, or The Artist star Jean Dujardin as a corrupt Swiss banker). In short, the movie has a fantastic ensemble, each of whom is  put the best use of his/her abilities, with nary a weak link to be found.

In the end, The Wolf of Wall Street is an outrageous and repugnant reflection of something very real – and very rotten – at the core of our society. Some people will inevitably be so put off by the harsh composition of the message that they fail to heed the importance of that message; but in presenting so much of the bad and the ugly behind Wall Street so unflinchingly, Scorsese has crafted an insightful – and important – deconstruction of post-millennial America’s moral erosion. These are the barbarians at our gates.

517992839 3 725 498 The Wolf of Wall Street Review

[poll id="737"]


The Wolf of Wall Street is in theaters Christmas Day. It is 180 minutes long and is Rated R for sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language throughout, and for some violence.

Follow me and talk movie @ppnkof

Our Rating:

5 out of 5

Follow Kofi Outlaw on Twitter @ppnkof
Get our free email alerts on the topics and author of this article:


Post a Comment

GravatarWant to change your avatar?
Go to Gravatar.com and upload your own (we'll wait)!

 Rules: No profanity or personal attacks.
 Use a valid email address or risk being banned from commenting.

If your comment doesn't show up immediately, it may have been flagged for moderation. Please try refreshing the page first, then drop us a note and we'll retrieve it. Keep in mind that we do not allow external links in the comments.

  1. 5 out of 5 stars? Well…you had my curiosity, but now you have my attention.

    • lmao. this comment is my xmas gift lol

    • Haha. Love this comment.

  2. So Leo is gonna get another nomination and then try to not burst into tears while somebody else wins ?

  3. So Leo is gonna get another oscar nomination and then try to not burst into tears while somebody else wins ?

  4. 5 out of 5! I am definitely seeing this tomorrow

  5. In the UK you have to be 18 or older to watch this film. Sort of like the N-17 or R-Rated certificate in the US, I think. I’ll be 18 when this comes out in UK and I’ve been excited about this since it has first been announced. Going to be the first film I watch as 18 and after reading this review, the hype is real.

  6. 5/5 wow! I’ll definitely be checking this out this weekend!

  7. Wall Street is a symptom, not the disease. The disease is the US govt created Federal Reserve that monopolized and counterfeited the money supply by the 10s of trillions.

    End the Fed and you solve the problem. Keep the Fed and you wont, no matter how many anti Wall Street movies are made.

    • + Infinity. Wish more people realized this.

    • Oh puhleeze, this sort of stuff would go on whether there was a Fed or not. It’s a symptom of the fact that people proclaim that they’re Christian, but don’t actually believe in any of the values of Christ. Instead, the only values they believe in come from the Old Testament, so they are not Christians at all.

      Just look at the criticism so-called Christians are heaping on the Pope. The Pope is following the guide set out by Christ, but American “Christians” are saying he’s a communist, when he’s doing exactly as Christ did. Therefore these so-called Christians are the same as those who denounced Christ and executed him.

    • …but of course, as with all anti-Fed people, we don’t mention a single word about all the free money those in America who are presently rich have gotten and not a second one about making those people who live off the taxpayer’s credit lines pay not their fair share but any taxes at all!

      We all must hate the idea of easy money unless it only goes to special insiders and politicians then we don’t care one bit about inflation apparently.

  8. Jordan Belfort is from Queens, not the Bronx.

    • I thought it was Queens in the movie… the real guy is from the Bronx, though.

  9. Actually, the events in the movie are not necessarily true. For example, the real Donnie Azoff has a different name. (What is about Jonah Hill playing characters in fact-based movies whose names were changed?) The movie is a dramatization of a book written by a liar and a swindler. Not exactly a formula for truthfulness. I mean, obviously, the point is not whether everything that happened in the book is true or not. It’s whether it all serves to further the inherent message of the movie.

  10. Wow 5 stars?! I think that is the first 5 star review I have seen on this site. Leo is pretty good in almost anything he is in. I had heard that some reviewers really hated it. Either way probably gonna wait tip this ones comes to netflix…still a lot of other movies in theaters I want to see.

    • Gravity…. but it was 4 stars at best… looking forward to this one though

  11. I saw the movie today and liked it. However, it is not 100% true to the book, which I liked as well. With that said Leo does a good job with the Belfort character. The movie is long though, at three hours. There is also a lot of sex, drugs and bad language…not that that’s bad, just an fyi.

  12. In line with the great cameos throughout the film- Spike Jonze has a good one, too. I agree with the 5 out of 5 rating. Just don’t drink as much beer as I did before and during the movie: 3 hrs is no joke ;)

    • The first time I saw this I couldn’t figure out who that was.
      It was only when I saw it again last night that it clicked.
      Now I have another reason to love this movie. :)

  13. 5 out of 5?? Looks like Leo got another actor nomination.. Planned to watch it this weekend anyway.. Now it is a certain weekend fixture.. :)

  14. Scorsese can find nothing better to waste time on
    than doing a turn in Oliver Stone’s already overflowing litter box?

  15. The gorgeous brick mansion featured in the Wolf of Wall Street was designed by Michael Jay Wallin, Architect of Huntington, NY. Why don’t the location owners or architects get mentioned in the film credits?

  16. I’ve seen this twice already and I’ve been struggling for a half hour now trying to figure out a way to explain why this is hands down my favorite movie of the year. Heck, I’m finding it hard to think of a movie I loved more in the past 2 years.
    Kofi did a great job in the review of breaking down what a masterful job Scorsese has done with this movie and I really hope there’s a “Wolf of Wall Street Explained” article posted soon because I really want as many people as possible to see this movie and understand the levels it works on.
    I know, I know, everybody hates the snob that says “Oh, you didn’t get it” or “You don’t understand” but as we can already see there’s a divide happening with fans and critics that I think has some missing the point of the story Scorsese is telling.
    Yes, on the surface this is a 3 hour movie full with more sex, nudity, drugs and some of the most disgusting behaviour ever put on film but down to the last second of the 2nd hour it’s all there for a reason.
    The word masterpiece is flung around all too easily these days but this is one movie IMO that deserves the label.

  17. Does this deserve 5 stars based on trailers we saw.. No! But i am intrigued like everyone else. I mean to give it 5 means it has to be among the top 10 movies of all time right? 5 out of 5 ? Full on…No mistakes or let downs in the entire 180 minutes? I am going to watch it soon and hopefully Kofi is right. Cause with a 5 star movie nobody…i mean nobody should have any issues. Every single person should like it right? LoL…lets c.

  18. Saw the movie in a cinema nearby and not a 5 star movie. I would give it 4 just cause am a Leo-Scorcese fan. The last hour or so of the movie just goes away in a direction unknown. They loose the audience towards the end. But the first half is very good indeed. They just could not sustain it for the entire length of the film. And thats why there is no way it warrants full 5 stars.

  19. Margot Robbie is a let down. Not so hot that she can be called an eyecandy and cannot act at all! Rest have given good performances. 75% movie is very good and exciting but then it fades away into something else. But i expected something along the lines of this kind of entertainment and so i am not disappointed. 4 out of 5 from me.

  20. The Wolf of Wall Street is the slightly watered down Caligula of our time. Marty got a little inspiration also from the Farrelly Bros.

  21. Overated.

    Yes, crass and vulgar; but, for my money, Animal House in the 1980′s was better. In fact, this is more like Animal House goes to Wall Street.

    Lots of vulgar sex and dialog, but over the top and not entertaining after a while. Actually, I think that even the director got tired of the f-word and nudity, because that was mostly in the beginning and middle of the movie.

    Margot Robbie as a trophy wife vixen made me laugh, as soon as she opened her mouth and talked in that strange NYC accent. I immediately realized that this movie could have been made about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. I could not take the rest of the movie seriously. (Except that Bill never divorced Hilary to marry Monica; that’s the only difference between making this movie about financial shallowness and about political shallowness.)

    The fact that the movie ignored the stock transaction victims was disappointing.

    I had two favorite parts in the movie:
    1. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill fighting over the phone, as in the picture above, and all the circumstances around that.
    2. Jean Dujardin as a Swiss banker, who gets all the money with no risk.

    I left the movie early, so I don’t know the value of any redeeming qualities in the last few minutes.

  22. I detest the subject matter of this film and any effort to lighten our outlook on these crimes.

    That said, I finally watched the film, and can only say: Damn you Martin Scorsese and Terrance Winter for being such excellent story tellers.

    I expected to stop the film a little ways in due to lack of engagement, and found my way to the end. I was a little baffled until I realized it was the guys who brought me Boardwalk Empire (a current TV favorite).

    Next time these two team-up, I am going to check it out.