Loving The Wolf

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By: Connor Lenahan

I have been witness to two competing camps of people lately: those that love The Wolf of Wall Street and those that loathe it. This is entirely understandable, as the movie is three hours long, consistently sexually explicit, record-settingly vulgar and insanely excessive for the entire run time.

I could try to identify the arguments of each side here and try to pick a winner, but it would be a futile exercise. I am biased. I love this movie to a frightening degree. I, as of last night, have seen it thrice in theaters. It would be pointless for me to try and argue against the movie; I would counter my own arguments before writing them.

So instead, I’m going to defend what makes me love The Wolf of Wall Street. I thought it was one of the best movies I saw last year and a film I will no doubt watch again and again over my life.

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Golden Globes Nominations

There is no way we start anywhere but Leonardo DiCaprio. He. Owns. This. Movie. I’m not going to pretend that I’ve seen his entire filmography and have any credibility on judging his performance as Jordan Belfort against, say, his Oscar nominated turn in Blood Diamond, however I can pull rank elsewhere. I was fortunate enough to see the heavy majority of the films that will be a part of the Oscar race this upcoming January 16th, including just about every major acting performance save for Forest Whitaker in The Butler and Joaquin Phoenix in the as-of-yet-unreleased Her. I feel comfortable saying this however: if DiCaprio is not at least nominated this year, then the Academy got the category wrong. DiCaprio submitted a more captivating performance than anyone else I saw this year. He is undeniably captivating from start to finish.

What I find most incredible is how he not only masterfully plays the emotions and general assholery of Belfort, but how he portrays Belfort’s evolution over time. As the movie begins we see Belfort enter into a position “lower than pond scum” on Wall Street. An hour later he is a budding financial superstar with a rapidly growing following. An hour later he is a deity in the eyes of his employees, able to turn the Stratton Oakmont office into a jungle with nothing more than an unrehearsed speech. By the end of the movie, Belfort is a broken man, with his family and empire torn away, and his power a distant memory. It speaks volumes to DiCaprio that he is believable in every one of these positions. I’m not trained as an actor, but I know a great performance when I see it. DiCaprio just gave one that actors would kill for. This movie only works if Belfort is as interesting to the audience as he is to the other characters. Those that hate the movie hate Belfort. Those that love the movie probably also hate Belfort, but love why and how they came to hate him. At least this is how I felt.

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The performance in this movie I was most surprised by was Jonah Hill. As Donnie Azoff, Jonah Hill plays one of the most unlikeable douchebags I’ve ever seen in a movie. It’s spectacular. He is simultaneously repulsive, lovable, ridiculous, and hilarious. He has teeth whiter than the Quaaludes he’s popping and dresses like a Brooks Brothers mannequin for the first hour of the movie before slipping into custom suits for the remainder of his time onscreen.

In a year where I watched Hill turn into a demon in This Is The End, I find it odd that his funniest work came in this movie. He, much like DiCaprio, is completely believable as a Wall Street prick, yet maintains the goofball charm he’s had since Superbad. In scenes where he is intentionally trying to anger Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal and Aya Cash he is the perfect blend of annoying to the person he’s antagonizing and hilarious to those watching. Needless to say, I was impressed.

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The band of misfits that comprise the founding members of Stratton Oakmont are perfect. Because this movie is really closer to a comedy than many would like to admit, it makes sense to hire comedic actors for these roles. PJ Byrne’s “Rugrat” is the smartest of the idiots, and purely delightful to watch. Terrible hairpiece included. Chester Ming, Robbie Feinberg and Alden Kupferberg (AKA “Sea Otter”) all make sense as morons that can be molded into persuasive enough liars to become millionaires. They also all contribute comedic relief for the movie; including the line “all nuns are lesbians,” which is my favorite line in movie history. These four do a terrific job throughout the movie.

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Belfort is shown with two wives: Teresa and Naomi. It’s easy to like Teresa in the early parts of the movie; she’s a caring partner to Belfort, offering to pawn her engagement ring to help ease financial struggle, and trying to help guide him to success. It’s unfortunate to lose someone so grounded and, for lack of a better description, non-evil as her so quickly into the film, but the story is simply more interesting once Naomi is introduced.

Cristin Milloti does a great job in a small part as Teresa, but Margo Robbie is fantastic as Naomi.  It helps that Robbie is incredibly easy on the eyes, and entirely believable as a former model as she is described by Belfort, but Robbie pulls off something that has a higher degree of difficulty than I had realized the first time I saw the film.

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Naomi could very well have been a buzzkill for the ongoing party that takes place for the first two hours of the film. Worse, she could have been one dimensional if not played correctly. Robbie makes her into a caring mother and wife, someone unwilling to put up with Belfort’s bullshit, and a largely unannoying character with a breakout performance.

It speaks to her work that there were audible gasps near the end of the movie when Belfort strikes her twice in an argument. Gasps mean the audience cares for the character. Cheers means they don’t. As the reaction is the former, Robbie deserves high praise.

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Many of the other smaller parts in the movie are tough for me to write on about, but there were some I wouldn’t feel right excluding.

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Matthew McConaughey is perfection as Mark Hanna. Literal perfection. He’s better in the lunch scene in the first half hour than he is in all of Dallas Buyer’s Club, a performance that will undoubtedly get him an Oscar nomination and possibly a win. I love McConaughey.

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Unfortunately I will never think of Kyle Chandler as Kyle Chandler. I will always think of him as Coach Eric Taylor. However, I love Coach Taylor, so I will continue to see every movie Chandler/Taylor is in forever. I was simply confused why he decided to quit the FBI and become a football coach, but that’s a mystery for another time.

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Jean Dujardin plays sleazy almost too well. It’s actually frightening. I had completely forgotten he was on the cast list until he appeared on screen the first time I saw the movie. He’s terrific.

I don’t know whose idea it was to call Spike Jonze, Jon Favreau and Rob Reiner and put them in this movie, but that person needs a raise. All three directors are awesome here, especially Jonze and his creepy/hilarious offer/bet with Belfort over his sales capabilities.

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This is quick but needs to be said: The inclusion of “Everlong” by Foo Fighters, one of my all-time favorite songs, is amazing and no one can tell me differently. I will get violent over this.

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I could go on for hours about the masterful visuals in this movie, all brilliantly directed by Martin Scorsese, but I don’t want to. The movie speaks for itself. It’s beautiful. The visuals are just incredible from the opening commercial/dwarf tossing to the closing Straight Line seminar.

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That said, the sequence where DiCaprio demonstrates what Belfort describes as the “cerebral palsy phase” is the single funniest scene I have seen in a movie in 2013, and one of the funniest I’ve seen ever. For that scene alone, DiCaprio deserves an Oscar, a Grammy, a Purple Heart and NBA Sixth Man of the Year. All of the trophies. All of them.

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The most unavoidable part of this movie is the excess. This is what is routinely referred to as the reason why many despise the movie. My friend Matt Gronsky, who I would have bet my life on loving the movie, thought it was “over the top. To be fair, he saw this with his sister, younger brother and girlfriend. It’s tough to laugh at the “dirty birdie” line while dying of awkwardness due to the people sitting around you.

The excess in this movie is otherworldly. Hundred dollar bills are thrown into the garbage. Multimillion-dollar bachelor parties are thrown. Yacht’s are purchased and destroyed. This is insane activity to non-billionaires. Those that I have talked to that disliked the excess in the film thought it was unnecessary. I have come to the following conclusion however.

This movie is the story of Jordan Belfort, a man who began as a wide eyed 22 year old with hopes of becoming a Wall Street success. We, the audience, watch his rise into a man with more money than he knows what to do with, corrupted to the core by the profession he so eagerly entered a few years prior. At the end we see a man who has become a villain get justice served. In order to get to this point, and to earn his life falling apart, we must see his life in totality.

The sex, the cocaine, the Quaaludes, the prostitutes, the greed, the debauchery, and the corruption: all of it. The excess is necessary, and makes the story so powerful. By having such an unbelievable rise into a meteoric fall, we get an amazing story. And in turn, one of the best movies of 2013.

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I’m more than willing to hear people’s takes on why they dislike the movie. I’m not a part of the Stratton Oakmont cult like it’s employees. I won’t follow Belfort over the cliff to doom. But with that said, I do love The Wolf of Wall Street. Long live Wolfie.

Connor Lenahan (@ConnorLenahan) is the founder and editor-in-chief of Connorlenahan.com. He is a freshman at Boston University, majoring in journalism. He can be emailed at lenahan@bu.edu