A $200 Million Story, or, The Wolf of Wall Street, GoodFellas and Getting Away With It

Some vague spoilers ahead for what you should probably have already guessed about the endings to GoodFellas and The Wolf of Wall Street.

wolflogo

At 2 hours and 59 minutes, The Wolf of Wall Street is Martin Scorsese’s longest film to date. But Wolf of Wall Street never feels cumbersome or dragged out, if anything parts of it feel hurried along. When the credits roll 2 hours and 59 minutes feels like the amount of time necessary to tell the story The Wolf of Wall Street wants to tell.

And that story is the rise and fall of stockbroker Jordan Belfort, whose memoir of the same title serves as the basis for Wolf of Wall Street.

Belfort is played, in a pretty ballsy performance, by Leonardo DiCaprio. Whether his performance as Belfort is the absolute best of his career or not, the performance is undoubtedly one of his best and could very well earn him that first Oscar. DiCaprio throws himself head first into a world of debauchery, thriving in the moral Gomorra of 1990’s Wall Street.

This guy, right?

This guy, right?

Debauchery is the name of the game in Wolf of Wall Street. The film’s prolonged segments feel like something between a postmodern remake of Caligula and listening to an Anthony Jeselnik album. The term “politically correct” was around when the events of Wolf of Wall Street unfolded, but the dialogue sure had me fooled.

Through his many flamboyant displays of depravity and corruption DiCaprio is joined by Jonah Hill, who plays Donnie Azoff, a character based on Belfort’s real-life acquaintance Danny Porush. Anyone going into The Wolf of Wall Street wondering how a movie that brandishes the glory of wild decadence can retain a hard-hitting dramatic back bone can rest assured that Wolf of Wall Street just doesn’t. It’s the darkest of dark comedy and Jonah Hill is a master of the craft.

DiCaprio and Hill are the next Tatum and Hill. They feed off of each other, building scenes to new heights with their ludicrous exchanges and schemes. There are certainly dramatic beats in this movie, but if your soul can stomach it you’ll also be laughing throughout due in no small part to the fantastic chemistry between Hill and DiCaprtio.

Fun with friends.

Fun with friends.

There are other standout performances throughout the film, primarily from Matthew McConaughey, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal and Kyle Chandler, who plays FBI agent Patrick Denham. Chandler’s scene with DiCaprio onboard Belfort’s lavish yacht was a personal highlight of the film. But while the supporting players of Wall Street are all top notch, few if any characters in the film have even half the screen time DiCaprio and Hill enjoy.

Jordan Belfort and Donnie Azoff are undoubtedly the heroes of The Wolf on Wall Street. Which can be a little problematic. Because they’re both terrible people.

Belfort and Azoff never kill anybody, and the film tries very hard to remind the viewer that the people Belfort works to scam out of their money are the wealthiest 1% of Americans, but at the end of the day The Wolf of Wall Street is about criminals. Criminals who do bad things and get away with it.

It was hard not to go into The Wolf of Wall Street with Scorsese’s 1990 film GoodFellas on the mind. The trailer for Wolf of Wall Street, with mouthy smartasses in suits and Leonardo DiCaprio directly breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience, certainly evokes a 21st century GoodFellas, and rightfully so. In the end The Wolf on Wall Street and GoodFellas are very similar films.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a stupid picture of the stupid scene where Ray Liotta talks to the stupid camera?

Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a stupid picture of the stupid scene where Ray Liotta talks to the stupid camera?

I could sit here and ramble on to you about how they’re similar because both movies are about the rise and fall of a criminal. But that’s not quite it. I could tell you The Wolf on Wall Street is a modern GoodFellas because they both depict powerful criminals who get away with it in the end, but that’s not quite right either. GoodFellas and Wolf of Wall Street’s shared beating heart is how those powerful criminals get away with it.

As cool and fun as characters like the fictionalized Belfort or Ray Liotta’s fictionalized Henry Hill can be to watch throughout the course of a movie, at the end of the day, in the classical sense, they’re bad guys. They do bad things. Whether its Jordan Belfort just straight up being a dick or Henry Hill putting a hit out on underlings, they aren’t nice people, they aren’t champions you would root for in day to day life.

But they win.

For all the crimes he committed, for all Henry Hill did that we the audience are told we aren’t allowed to do, he gets away in the end, tucked into witness protection for telling his story.

For all the approximately $200 million Belfort scammed unsuspecting investors out of he spent 22 months in jail. Because he told his story. Hell, DiCaprio and Brad Pitt literally went into a bidding war for the rights to his book.

It’s the currency of story that binds GoodFellas and The Wolf of Wall Street. It’s the idea that these people are bad people that we should not like, but their stories are stories we want to hear. They “get away with it” as criminals because they tell the authorities their story and they “get away with it” as characters because they tell us, the audience, their stories.

Henry Hill and Jordan Belfort are not characters I like, nor are they based on people I will ever respect. But Henry Hill and Jordan Belfort have stories to tell that I want to hear.

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

1. Do you actually like the characters Jordan Belfort and Henry Hill?

2. Have you ever tried Quaaludes? Do you have any?

3. How many times did you have to shower after watching Wolf of Wall Street?

 

For more on this years other award-nominated films:

12 Years a Slave

American Hustle

Captain Philips

Dallas Buyers Club

Gravity

Her

Nebraska

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s