The first time I watched The Wolf of Wall Street, two things jumped out at me.
One: I was watching a comedy. I’d expected something more serious, more dour, more sinister, more like the Scorsese I was familiar with – Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, The Departed. But this was not that. This was hilarious. Parts of it were even downright slapstick. (Tell me you can’t imagine Jim Carey as Dicaprio’s stunt double during that scene, that vintage-Quaalude-fueled romp from the payphone to the Ferrari!)
Two: Scorsese and company had so meticulously crafted each shot. Watching The Wolf of Wall Street is like watching a (very long) series of moving tableaux vivants, each aspect of the image carefully placed and choreographed and then recorded by the camera. (Of course, these days, the moving images in a film like this have more than a camera to thank for their creation. Computers and VFX have a large part to play as well, and Wolf is no exception.)
If you’ve seen the film, this comment probably brings to mind a handful of key shots or scenes – the overhead shot than pans Belfort’s demolished hotel suite in Vegas, any one of the wide-angle shots of bacchanalian revelry at Stratton Oakmont. If you haven’t seen the film (and even if you have), you may have seen this .gif:
It’s perfect. And it's exactly what I'm talking about. DiCaprio’s the locus of action. But everyone else in the frame is also a story unto himself. That one image is a drop in the ocean; the rest of the film is just as carefully staged and executed.
So, imagine my surprise when I started to re-watch The Wolf of Wall Street yesterday and noticed a shot of DiCaprio, as Jordan Belfort, standing on his dais at the front of Stratton Oakmont, someone’s blurry, out of focus, raised hand momentarily obscuring the golden boy's million dollar face.
Well, I ran it back, just to get another look at what I’d assumed was a pretty noticeable flub in an otherwise visually perfect picture, and I could hear something, low in the mix but still distinct. Here it is, as a .gif:
You’ll have to cue up the film (roughly five minutes in) to hear it for yourself, but that’s the dialogue on the .gif – just as a hand shoots up from the crowd and covers Belfort's face, you can hear it above the chatter of the trading room.
The other thing you may be aware of, whether you’ve seen the film or not, is just how much has been made over whether or not Scorsese’s onscreen depiction of Jordan Belfort lionizes a despicable man and celebrates his misdeeds. Much has been written about it, particularly about how Scorsese’s “hero” is not significantly punished for his excesses. DiCaprio himself has weighed in, calling it an "indictment." Others have come to the film's defense. But here it is (somewhat covertly) in the film itself: “That [Jordan Belfort], is an asshole.”