I knew it had to arrive at some point. As I sat down to watch “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which cusses its way onto Blu-ray disc from Paramount Pictures quite soon, I firmly believed there would be a moment when the picture drifted away from its extreme image and leaned on one’s emotional chords. I had to be right, but I didn’t know when I’d experience the moment. It eventually came during the third hour, by which I was thoroughly exhausted from holding out hope that everything everyone had told me about this film would be affirmed or denied.
You see, films like “The Wolf of Wall Street” are films that you either like or dislike. Most folks don’t hold a middle ground here, because doing so leaves you away from others who have quite firmly planted themselves and drawn a line. And given how long the Motion Picture Association of America’s warning is next to the film’s R rating (“…sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language throughout, and for some violence”), it is easy to understand why. There is so much here to dislike that you wonder what, if anything, there actually is to be fond of.
Well, someone thought it was pretty good. To date it has grossed over $375 million worldwide. It was nominated for five Oscars: Best Director (Martin Scorsese), Best Adapted Screenplay (Terence Winter), Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), Best Supporting Actor (Jonah Hill) and Best Picture. It took home Golden Globe nominations, BAFTA nods and then some, along with some pretty harsh criticism (more on that later). Of course, lots of folks out there disliked “The Wolf of Wall Street” for the very same reasons that it drew its R rating, and also because it depicts people they don’t like indulging in a lifestyle that doesn’t sit well with anyone after an international financial collapse.
That moment I described earlier comes as Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) sees the millions and millions of dollars he worked so hard to get his hands on begin to fade away. His second wife Naomi (Margot Robbie) is starting to realize he isn’t worth much more than the drugs he uses or the alcohol he drinks. His partners Donnie (Hill), Brad (Jon Bernthal), Rugrat (P. J. Byrne) and Chester (Kenneth Choi) have all started to gradually unravel as individuals and a group. His father Max (Rob Reiner) can’t get through to him anymore. He is under FBI and SEC investigations courtesy of agent Denham (Kyle Chandler). Needless to say, he has more than his share of trials and tribulations.
Yet despite these somewhat major issues, Jordan doesn’t care. He made his living, and his fortune, by selling largely ignored and unregulated penny stocks to everyday folks and scoring huge commissions. He gained his nickname, the Wolf of Wall Street, by aggressively selling everything under the sun and never apologizing for his methods. His first boss, played by Matthew McConaughey, taught him to take on a lifestyle of casual success and cocaine to succeed. Young financiers worshiped the ground he stepped on as though he were royalty. We follow his somewhat unconventional rise to the top and his unapologetic kick ass and take names methods, all against a backdrop that paints his lavish lifestyle out to be something he values above all else.
The thing of it is this: Jordan isn’t really a bad guy. We see glimpses of humanity every so often, and despite his addictions to sex, drugs, alcohol, money and crude behavior, you develop a little liking for him during the scenes where he turns and addresses the camera directly. You even wonder in the back of your brain every now and again whether he’ll find a way to make it out of the mess he keeps digging himself further and further into. He and those he helped to lie, cheat and steal get what they deserve, but not before “The Wolf of Wall Street” paints a pretty grotesque picture of the corporate banking and stock world.
Everything is excessive for those on screen, from the prostitutes with their bare breasts showing all the way through to the drug snorting and binge drinking. Cars, yachts, international flights and more are made out to be the standard for men who seemingly care little about anyone else aside from themselves and anything else other than making money. We leave the film wondering how much of what just went down is true, false and somewhere in between.
The hard part with “The Wolf of Wall Street” is looking at the film without considering its content. This is especially hard because the content is so outrageous and over the top. Scorsese pulls out all the stops to illustrate American excess at its absolute best and worst simultaneously, which caused me to scratch my head so often I developed a callous. The film is extremely detailed and works ever so hard to hammer home its subtle commentary on how greed has changed lives at the top and bottom, illustrating the world many of us lay people know and despise quite thoroughly with an artist’s paintbrush. I credit Scorsese for his efforts, despite my discomfort and unease with the content itself.
The performances are good enough to warrant award consideration, but probably not good enough to warrant the awards themselves (evidenced by the fact that “The Wolf of Wall Street” didn’t land a single Academy Award). DiCaprio is charming, driven and charismatic all at once, generating a magnetic persona his co-workers and viewers can’t help but latch onto, even if only in a minimal capacity. Hill is on point and edgy, demonstrating another diverse side to his ability as an actor that convinces me he’s due for even better stuff down the line. My favorite scene in “The Wolf of Wall Street” unsurprisingly involves these two, with Jordan and Donnie each downing far too many pills, separating from each other, then reconnecting after an epic crawl from the country club to Jordan’s house where he stops Donnie from choking on a deli tray. My description doesn’t do it justice, so you should see it for yourself.
You know what I did the day after watching “The Wolf of Wall Street”? I bought 3 stocks and a mutual fund online. Heck, if even the most raunchy films can inspire this otherwise mild mannered fellow to spend his hard earned dollars and cents, maybe there really is light at the end of the tunnel.
The film is extremely bright, with natural light aiding all the way through and creating a substantially more pleasant image on screen. There are moments, however, where the foreground is sharp and crisp while the background stands out as pixilated or blurred. Regardless, Paramount has done good work bringing “The Wolf of Wall Street” to Blu-ray disc with this 1080p High Definition 1.85:1 video transfer. It isn’t as clean as it probably could have been, but neither was the stock trading that took place throughout the film.
I always start out watching a Blu-ray disc with my sound system set to 30 on a 100 scale. By the time “The Wolf of Wall Street” concluded, I’d turned it down to 22. It’s so darn loud, and so darn easy to pick up everything, that I got overwhelmed a bit at the end of each hour (and there are three of them, making the run time just under 180 minutes). The profanity and parties shake themselves out without fail, and the film uses what must be well over 50 songs in a soundtrack that spans the late 1980s through the mid 2000s. No problems at all with the English 5.1 DTS-High Definition Master Audio soundtrack, but if you seek adventure, you can enable the French or Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital options instead. Subtitle choices for the Blu-ray version are English, French and Spanish.
A digital copy and standard definition version are included with the combo pack, as well as a special feature titled “The Wolf Pack,” which chronicles the cast and crew journey in making the film.
A Final Word:
It’s good, but it ain’t great. I found it overrated, but still funny enough at specific moments to the point where I couldn’t hate it. Not for the faint of heart, “The Wolf of Wall Street” might be worth watching once. And only once.