At 180 minutes long, The Wolf of Wall Street is not a short film.
It has a fast and furious momentum that keeps it going up until about 120 minutes into the film, and then when you think it's over, it gains more momentum, but because of this, it loses steam as well.
According to the book and it's author Jordan Belfort, The Wolf of Wall Street is the true story of Belfort's days as a New York stockbroker, when he owned the now-defunct Stratton Oakmont Trading Company. His was a life of money, greed, sex, drugs, cheating, fraud, corruption, more fraud, more corruption, and lots more sex and drugs. Did I mention lots of drugs?
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Belfort, starting out as a dental school dropout who somehow gets a job on Wall Street at the age of 22 (in 1982), and finally being sent to prison at the age of 36. During those 14 years, Belfort lived a life that could be characterized as reality meets fantasy.
As a 22-year-old man, we see DiCaprio at his first day at work in a Manhattan brokerage company. He knows this is where he belongs, even more so when his boss Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) tells him how he should lead his life if he is going to stay in this business: with drugs and prostitutes. Unfortunately for Belfort (and Hanna), they both lose their jobs when their firm goes under after the crash of 1987, so Belfort, encouraged by his wife Teresa (Cristin Milioti), applies for a stockbroker job on Long Island. He thinks about it, and decides to go for it. He drives up to a strip mall and walks into what is a very low key, unassuming office, with none of the buzz of his New York City trading floor. He impresses the manager (in more ways than one), and from this point on for Belfort the only way is up.
He soon earns lots of money, and then decides to strike out on his own. He enlists his neighbor, Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), who is a character out of the 1950s and happened to marry his own cousin, to work for him. And soon enough, Belfort gets all of his friends together to also work for him at his new firm. Within a year, his firm, Stratton Oakmont, is earning millions and millions of dollars, and with all this money comes all the finer (and funner) things in life. Belfort is able to buy his wife very expensive jewelry and a penthouse in the sky, and at the same time he spends lavishly on his employees. In one crazy scene in the film, Belfort announces that his firm has earned a record amount for one day, so out comes a scantily-dressed marching band (both men and women), and then a chimpanzee, which Belfort holds on to, and then hookers, hookers, and more hookers. (What were the female brokers doing? Were there any? I didn't see any at this point in the film.) Midgets were brought in to be tossed, and the debauchery continues and continues, with lots of naked women in the office, and lots of the male brokers taking turns with the women.
The Wolf of Wall Street shows that there was sex everywhere in their office. Whilst this may be sort of true, it is really, really hard to believe than an American company in the early 1990s would condone this type of behavior. Even more so with Belfort (and his entire board of directors) taking drugs all the time, including cocaine and quaaludes, all over the office, and in public places as well. This includes them boarding a plane, all very obviously high. Any airline at that time would've called the authorities and kicked them off. At one point, Belfort's company employed 1,000 brokers. Are we supposed to believe that all of them condoned (and participated in) this type of behavior?
Belfort then meets and falls in love with Naomi (a very good and beautiful Margot Robbie, with an excellent Long Island accent). So the wife leaves the picture and he and Naomi get married and start to have children. Naomi gets whatever she wants: diamonds, a house in the Hamptons, a huge yacht named after her.
But Belfort knows what he is doing is wrong, not just the illegal trading (the pump and dump — where his brokers and friends and relatives buy shares in a company to inflate the price of a stock, then shares in these same companies would be sold to unsuspecting investors, thereby inflating the price, and then his brokers and friends and relatives would sell the stock — making lots of money and leaving the unsuspecting investors with huge losses), but the drugs and the prostitution as well. Belfort even enlists his wife's aunt Emma (Joanna Lumley) and several other non-Americans to help him launder money to take cash to Switzerland. But lurking in the background is FBI Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler), who is perhaps the most believable character in the movie. He investigates Belfort and his company for securities fraud, and it takes two years for Denham to gather all the evidence he needs to arrest Belfort. Needless to say, his life will never be the same again. Belfort has admitted that one of his heroes was Gorden Gekko (Michael Douglas's character in 1987's Wall Street), who also went to prison.
The Wolf of Wall Street is a satire, perhaps a way over-the-top satire at that. Sure, the story is a solid one, with all the right ingredients: sex, drugs, money, great acting and directing, etc. But at the end of the day, the characters are just drug fueled men with the mental capacity of ten year olds. Director Martin Scorsese had a good story here, but he mucked it up. He should have played this film like a Goodfellas for the Wall Street crowd, a drama instead of a satire, making the characters and their situations more believable and real. And while Leonardo DiCaprio does an excellent job playing Belfort, it boils down to a script that is just too too long.
At 120 minutes into the film, Belfort, after having taken way too many quaaludes with Azoff, is told by his lawyer to not use the phone in his house as it is bugged. So Belfort goes to a pay phone at a local country club. Then the quaaludes kick in, and in a five-minute sequence (which is when I started checking my watch), he slowly slowly tries to make it into the car, falls down a flight of steps, uses his legs to get in the car. It is a hilarious moment, but by this point, the movie should've been wrapping up and not starting a new story arc. Yet, there was still an hour to go.
Watching The Wolf of Wall Street is like going to dinner in an all-you-can-eat restaurant. You've already eaten way too much, but more food appears on your plate. It kind of makes you feel like you just want to get up and walk away.