The Wolf of Wall Street is basically a comedic remake of Goodfellas as both films tell the story of one man's venture into a sinful life, and they basically follow a similar path in terms of high and lows. In both films it is not really the story of a protagonist who is slowly corrupted rather both are the stories are about men who pretty much want to be corrupted. Something rather interesting though is that despite Goodfellas being about mobsters who regularly murdered people Henry Hill as played by Ray Liotta actually has far more authentic emotions than Jordan Belfort ever has, aside from one very brief moment with his first wife early in the film, Belfort is one shallow man as portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio. That might sound like I'm criticizing DiCaprio, but I'm not.
This is a very rare Oscar nomination for lead actor because DiCaprio actually gives an entirely comic performance, even a scene that might seem serious in terms of conception tends to still be completely comedic as it is played out in the film. DiCaprio goes for broke by showing Belfort to be the hollow man, and just going all the way with that concept without looking back once. Except for that one brief moment where Belfort lost his first job and DiCaprio let's us see just a little bit of honest concern in the man, there is technically nothing to Belfort as a man other than his want and desire for more money, and any sort of pleasures he can get whether it is from drinking, taking every drug that he can seem to find, or indulging in every type of sex with a woman he can come up with.
I'll get to the comedy in a minute but I'd like to start with just the creation of Belfort method as a wall street broker. DiCaprio has a great intensity with his portrayal of this but not the intensity that would make you ever scared of him, at least in the traditional sense, but that intensity that personifies his insatiable thirst for more money. DiCaprio makes Belfort the false salesman but he does it oh so perfectly by making that falseness technically part of the appeal of what the man seems to be offering. DiCaprio brings all the right bravado in his scenes as the salesman as Belfort is really screwing the person over yet he makes the offer just sound so great, because he seems to be so absolutely sure about it. DiCaprio makes the passion in Belfort both truthful and completely fake at the same time.
DiCaprio continues this quite effectively when he has any of his scenes where Belfort seems to be trying to rally his troops to do what else other than continue to make money. DiCaprio again has such a terrific balance in his creation of what Belfort is doing. DiCaprio definitely shows that Belfort is giving his all with his screaming at the top of his lungs through his microphone to say just how awesome he thinks his own company and he is, as well DiCaprio has the non-stop enthusiasm that only reinforces properly why his employees would think he is so cool, but as well why so many would want to work to Belfort. There is such a lack of any genuine feeling though and DiCaprio is great because through his own performance he creates the egg that Belfort's whole world was, pretty but completely empty.
Now enough of that though because the true greatness of DiCaprio's performance is just how funny he is here. DiCaprio kind of does wink at the audience since Belfort does not mind directly speaking the audience from time to time, but in terms of playing Belfor DiCaprio never stops to laugh at the character himself. Instead DiCaprio goes all the way with Belfort and revels in all that Belfort that does, no matter what it may be. DiCaprio's work here is pretty glorious really as he never hesitates in to get whatever he can out of any scene. DiCaprio is great with his line deliveries in just how little feeling he can give, and this lack of feeling can even make Jordan's telling of the death of some of his friends as comedic because he's just so nonchalant about it.
What I love about DiCaprio's work here is that he doesn't ever try to make the material serious in anyway and is so good in indulging in Belfort's antics. DiCaprio's great because of just how casual, and frankly relaxed in the role. I have been a little more forgiving of DiCaprio most recent dramatic efforts than some, but his work here suggests that this is where he should be. DiCaprio makes Belfort man who does not find anything to be even slightly bashful about and anything he does he just does. What is also great is that DiCaprio does make Belfort quite a doofus, and is hilarious because Belfort as a man who thinks he's a genius as well. One of my favorite moments of DiCaprio's is when he tries to act like a true cutthroat in front of the F.B.I. agent investigating him, DiCaprio first portrays Belfort as so obvious in his foolish attempt though, and quite naturally devolves into some rather childish insults.
As much as I enjoy DiCaprio's line deliveries and his narration there is nothing that compares to the physical aspect of his performance. DiCaprio is rather on fire in the way he injects an incredible energy to every scene he is in and his movement exemplify the whole idea of Belfort's method toward life. This is particularly true of course for his drug habit and DiCaprio's performance is worthy of comparison to Ray Liotta depiction of a drugged up addict. DiCaprio's though is of course twisted slightly for the sake of comedy particularly in the randomness of Belfort's behavior that DiCaprio does so brilliantly. DiCaprio just really is on in pretty much every frame, and never fails to make the most out of Belfort's insanity by pretty much showing just how insane it is thorough his equally insane portrayal of it.
Although there is plenty of great moments based upon DiCaprio's use of his body in this film, that dance routine at Belfort's wedding is a particular highlight, the best moment in this regard though is without a doubt when Belfort takes too many Lemmon Quaaludes and attempts to get home because he needs to stop his business partner from using the phone. DiCaprio perhaps has never been better than in his, Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot inspired, portrayal of the drugs affect. Frankly I could not stop laughing from DiCaprio's depiction of Belfort's attempt to crawl and mumble his way home. The scene is pure comedic gold, and DiCaprio's performance of the scene is flawless deriving laughter from pretty much every movement in the funniest scene of 2013.
Jordan Belfort is not a likable character really by any measure not only because of his indulgences and illegal actions involving his stock broker firm, but as well he does not mind some wife beating now again either. DiCaprio is magnetic here of course, but he does not try to make us like Jordan Belfort in attempt to make the film watchable. No, what DiCaprio does instead is make it so very easy to laugh at the various exploits of Belfort that it is extremely easy to watch him throughout the film. DiCaprio excels so much here that I would say his true calling seems to be as a comedic actor after all. In fact, since this one was so good, I would not mind seeing DiCaprio and Scorsese tackle a few more pseudo remakes of Scorsese's films with a heavily comedic bent. This is a great performance by Leonardo DiCarpio and one of the amusing ever nominated for an Oscar.