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To that point, the film more than earns its "dark comedy" stripes. Much of that hilarity falls on the shoulders of Jonah Hill, who was also seeing the finished product for the first time and received a big pop from the audience when introduced for the Q&A. He carries the comedy like a champ throughout, delivering, easily, his best performance to date as a version of investment banker Danny Porush.
Without the cooperation of the real Porush, whose surname was changed to Azoff in the film, Hill had to lean on the well of information provided by the real Belfort. "Any time I play someone real in a movie, they ask to have their name changed," Hill said, referencing his Oscar-nominated work in "Moneyball." The actor was intrigued by the fact that Belfort, who has a small cameo toward the end of "Wolf," would rattle off the litany of despicable things he's done but that "he would never judge himself." But for his part, Scorsese kept his distance from Belfort, DiCaprio said, "because he wanted to be able to have a different perspective." DiCaprio and Hill would then serve as middle men, bringing new material and stories not necessarily documented in the book to the director's attention.
And there were so many stories it was dizzying. One of them, in fact, featuring "German Shepherds and blow jobs in Vegas," according to DiCaprio, was far too scandalous to make it to the screen. "It was so bad I wish I never heard it," Hill said. Cue your imaginations. But that's the kind of outrageousness that was the name of the game here, an almost mercurial sort of spirit that Scorsese even wanted to infuse with the performances.
"It was sort of controlled, calculated chaos," DiCaprio said, noting that he looked into the making of "The King of Comedy" because of the amount of improvisation that went into that 1983 Scorsese film. "And he wanted it to be like that, specifically. He wanted all the actors to have a loose sort of feeling in their performance. It's the first film I did with Marty in the sense that there weren't all these moving puzzle pieces that had to culminate in a powerful ending. This was the story of a man's life, and an insane one at that. So that was his intent, to let it sort of spiral off into madness."
The film's shenanigans therefore play out for a minute shy of three hours, and in many ways, it feels like a film that wants to be longer. Nearly two hours were lopped off during the editing process, but it's the kind of thing that either needed to be an hour shorter (for the potency of, say, "Goodfellas") or a full-blown mini-series (because Belfort's story certainly has the material and the intrigue to sustain that length) to strike the perfect balance. Structure issues start to plague a film this long (particularly a comedy), caught between being a jab and a roundhouse. But it's an epic yarn no matter how you slice it.
And Favreau — who has maybe 60 seconds of screen time in the film — perhaps put it best, mentioning Scorsese's ability to drive out nuanced and subtle performances despite how over-the-top the circumstances of the narrative may be. "It never loses its sense of grounding, and I think that's a hallmark of Scorsese's work," he said. "And as you guys who have seen 'Swingers' know, I've been really fixated on this guy since my earliest moments. So to be a fly on the wall, it was very intimidating, but it was quite an honor."
We'll dive deeper into "The Wolf of Wall Street" in due time, including its Oscar potential, which, I don't mind saying, seems like a bit of a mixed bag, though reaction so far has been hugely enthusiastic. Hill is a great bet for Best Supporting Actor and DiCaprio could frankly nudge someone out of that seemingly locked-up Best Actor race. If she had a few more scenes, it seems to me that Margot Robbie (who will nevertheless be a star after this film comes out) could have pushed into the Best Supporting Actress race, but I'm not so sure beyond that. We'll see how the rest of this week's guild screenings go.
More on all of that in Monday's Oscar column.
"The Wolf of Wall Street" arrives in theaters on Christmas Day.
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