“The Wolf of Wall Street” Casting Review

It’s getting harder to tell which collaboration produces better films: Robert de Niro and Martin Scorsese or Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese?

 Gangs of New York, The Departed, The Aviatorthese are the equal of Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Cape Fear, and Casino. Clearly, Scorsese’s capacity for greatness is limitless with the right leading man.

With The Wolf of Wall Street, a film based on the experiences of real-life stock swindler Jordan Belfort, Scorsese and Dicaprio have crafted a hilarious, amoral tale about the excesses of Wall Street. DiCaprio, who also produced the film, gives a monumental performance as Belfort, the pill-popping, Lamborghini-wrecking, hooker-loving stockbroker. Together with his gang of conscienceless stock traders at Stratton Oakmont, his piratical stock-trading company, he robs everyone blind and has a great time doing it.

DiCaprio shows a gift for unrestrained comedy, including several scenes of outright slapstick. He is on record saying comedy might be his real métier, and this film is strong evidence of that. From irony to witty verbal interplay to over-the-top physical comedy, DiCaprio shows great comedic range. Even though the Academy didn’t recognize his efforts with an Oscar for Wolf of Wall Street, his talent will make the award his eventually, inevitably.

Jonah Hill plays Donnie Azoff, Belfort’s right-hand man and fellow cocaine-snorting Master of the Universe. “Donnie Azoff” is loosely based on Danny Porush, Belfort’s real-life partner. Together, Belfort and Porush pleaded guilty in 1999 to 10 counts of securities fraud and money laundering, with Porush spending 39 months in prison and Jordan 22.

Sporting porcelain white teeth and wire-frame glasses, Hill makes his unusual physicality work for the role. His portly Azoff is a perfect foil for DiCaprio’s lean Belfort, and their chemistry is palpable. Hill campaigned actively for the part, taking a considerable pay cut and even agreeing to audition, something he had not done for six years. The result is a fine display of Hill’s mature acting chops.

Matthew McConaughey has an especially good turn as devilish stock broker Mark Hanna. He shows Belfort the ropes on his first day and by “ropes,” I mean prescribing a drug regimen that would kill a horse and the stress relief benefits of hookers. McConaughey has one extended scene, essentially a long cameo, but his acting has never been finer. He lures in Belfort with stories of excess about the business: tales of seven-and-eight-figure salaries, legally questionable sales tactics, and a corporate culture straight out of Caligula that seem unbelievable. That is, until he backs up his talk by snorting cocaine in front of a restaurant full of people without batting an eyelash. McConaughey does this with a Mephistophelean delight that makes his surfer-boy roles seem a million miles away.

Also of note is Margot Robbie, an Australian actress in the role of Belfort’s second wife, Naomi. Robbie is very good as Belfort’s sexpot wife with a temper. Robbie’s Brooklyn accent, tough for even American-born actors, is believable throughout most of the film. However, during the more intense scenes of anger between her and Belfort (and there are quite a few), her accent gets a little flat. This is a small criticism though. Despite her spoiled behavior, Robbie makes Naomi a sympathetic character, as the main recipient of Belfort’s bad behavior.

Kyle Chandler plays Patrick Denham, the incorruptible FBI agent who brings down Belfort. Chandler gives Denham a decency and trustworthiness, tinged with only the slightest hint of envy. Chasing criminals who abuse the financial system to make more money in a day than he’ll earn in 20 years can create make a person bitter. But Chandler hits that note–the envy of a subway rider who knows that Wall Street robber barons take private jets–without being self-pitying. It’s the sort of role Chandler has played a lot recently–the bureaucratic heavy Joseph Bradley from Zero Dark Thirty comes to mind–but the intellectual sensitivity he brings to the character makes it stand out

The film clocks in at 179 minutes, and it knocks the wind out of you with its excesses. However, nearly all of it laugh-out-loud hilarious, making it perhaps the funniest movie Scorsese has ever made, After Hours included. The Wolf of Wall Street is not for the faint of heart but it comes highly recommended.

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Brendan