The last shoe to drop in the 2013 awards race hit Saturday as Martin Scorsese‘s much-awaited The Wolf Of Wall Street was unveiled to SAG voters at a couple of screenings at the WGA theatre in Beverly Hills. I caught the film earlier at a small 10 AM screening for some of the cast members on the Paramount lot and then moderated the Q&A following the 6:30 PM screening of the 3 hour film. To say it was rapturously received would be an understatement. Leonardo DiCaprio received a standing ovation when I introduced him, and co-star Jonah Hill also won huge applause from the packed-to-the-rafters house who also enthusiastically cheered co-stars Rob Reiner (who plays DiCaprio’s dad and stole the show at the Q&A), Jon Favreau, P.J. Byrne, Ken Choi and Cristin Milioti. I heard the film also received the same kind of enthusiastic response at the earlier screening too. Paramount also threw a party to kick things off in style. Celebration was in order since Paramount at one time wasn’t even sure the film would be ready as Scorsese has been editing to make a 2013 date. Originally it was scheduled for a November 15 release but moved to Christmas bumping Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit into January to make room for Wolf‘s wide release awards run.
Formal reviews are embargoed but as an initial observation I would label the movie ”Scorsese’s Satyricon,” a wild ride full of contemporary debauchery to say the least (DiCaprio compared some of it to Caligula), with a fine ensemble and a frenetic pace that belies its three hour running time. Even at that length it never lags. It is the perfect companion piece to Goodfellas and puts Scorsese right back in the thick of the Oscar race, if Academy members, particularly older ones, can deal with the almost non-stop parade of sex, drugs, nudity and rock and roll. Violence, a Scorsese staple in this type of film, is missing but there are a number of remarkable set pieces including a storm-driven yacht voyage that has to be seen to be believed (Rob Legato supervised the special effects team). An NC-17 was avoided by some reported judicious cutting but it’s hard to imagine the stuff that didn’t make it in considering the edgy material that did.
There are also the performances, including two sure to gain Oscar recognition, for DiCaprio and Hill. As many observers I talked to noted, DiCaprio has simply never been better in the signature role of his career as Jordan Belfort, the out-of-control Wall Street hot shot at the center of this story. Leo just knocked someone out of the Best Actor lineup making an impossibly difficult year even more difficult. It would be unthinkable to imagine he won’t be in the top five. And Hill, hilarious and memorable as his co-hort in white collar crime, is equally great – an almost certain second Best Supporting Actor nod for the actor who was first nominated opposite Brad Pitt in Moneyball. The incredible thing about it is it’s supposedly all true. This story from Belfort’s book about his rise and fall in the financial world is almost hard to believe but apparently it happened and that should give us all pause. It certainly explains why the economy tanked and we went down with the ship.
At age 71 Scorsese is rare among directors at his age, clearly at the top of his directorial powers. He seems energized by the material and the script from Terence Winter. It makes good company alongside films like Goodfellas and Casino. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has deemed it a comedy for the Golden Globes and I guess that seems right. These guys are hilarious, if tragic. Whatever the label it is a movie that won’t be easy to ignore even as it comes out at the tail end of the season on December 25th. Paramount tells me they are getting it seen by most critics groups in time (though screeners won’t be out by those deadlines) and will be anxious to see the reaction. Despite its length it seems commercial to me and also contains distinct, if limited, turns by the likes of Oscar winner Jean Dujardin and especially Matthew McConaughey, terrific in one brilliantly funny scene as the stock wizard who sets DiCaprio’s Belfort on his course to self-destruction (incredibly, Belfort’s first day as a stock broker was the 1987 day the market crashed). Of particular note among the women is Australian actress Margot Robbie who nails it as the second very New York wife of Belfort.
“It’s all true. That’s what is so fascinating about the novel. That’s why I was so obsessed with playing this character,” said DiCaprio. “It was a seven-year process to get this film made. The financing kept falling apart… It was a very difficult film to finance. It’s like the Roman Empire in the 80′s. It’s debaucherous, it was sex and drugs and greed. It wasn’t the most commercial sounding film but Marty’s attitude was always, ‘Let’s focus on this being a really dark comedy,’ and as he said before he intended Goodfellas to be a comedy,” he said, adding that he pursued Scorsese consistently to do this movie with him. “I told him after the Golden Globes one night, ‘We have to do this movie. We don’t get opportunities like this, ever. These opportunities like this don’t come about. We have to do this movie.”
DiCaprio said he spent many months working with Belfort to take him through the specific moments of his life which he helped bring to the screen, a rare experience for an actor. “It’s like the fall of the Roman Empire. You just can’t believe this man lived this life. This is kind of a microcosm of a much bigger story. They are kind of an outsider beating on Wall Street’s door. These guys are out in a chop shop in Long Island trying to emulate Gordon Gekko. They want to be these guys they admire. And Jordan found a tiny loophole and just kept pushing it further and further and the money took over and the women and the drugs and pretty soon he was in over his head,” he said.
It’s also interesting that Scorsese cast three directors in straight acting roles including Rob Reiner, Spike Jonze, and Jon Favreau. Reiner got big laughs when he said, “If you get a director who can also act a little bit, then for the director making the film it makes it a little easier because we know what they are going through. We aren’t going to be a pain in the ass. ‘You know in this scene, what’s my motivation? Fuck your motivation. Just say the fucking words!’”
“I saw it this morning for the first time and it’s taken until now to digest what I saw. Martin Scorsese is my favorite artist in the world and to get to play that kind of character in this kind of film, this is the ultimate dream of my life,” Hill said while also hilariously describing an instant classic scene involving taking ‘ludes with DiCaprio, and another in which he swallows a live goldfish.
Paramount threw a party afterwards in the lobby based on the wild one in the movie. As in the movie, they hired a marching band to play during the festivities. Understandably, with killer competition getting a head start out there, the studio wants to do everything it can to say The Wolf Of Wall Street has arrived and staked a place in the race.
Indeed it has.
Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.