Another Scorsese classic comes to 4K UHD, and though the Dolby Vision presentation of The Wolf of Wall Street may not produce the eye candy we crave, there's enough drugs, sex, money, and avarice on display in this rollicking, riveting, oh-so-rude epic to sate any addiction. Scorsese chronicles the rise and fall of sleazy stockbroker Jordan Belfort with customary gusto and Leonardo DiCaprio brings him to brilliant life in a brash, warts-and-all portrayal that ranks among his very best. The lack of an audio upgrade is disappointing, but the inclusion of a couple of supplements that didn't make it onto the 2014 Blu-ray is a plus for fans, who will also appreciate the transfer's enhanced clarity and broader color spectrum. The Wolf of Wall Street stands as one of Scorsese's best, and while this 4K UHD edition might not meet expectations, it's still a welcome and worthy upgrade. Highly Recommended.
The Mafia has long been Martin Scorsese's domain, with gritty films like Mean Streets, GoodFellas, Casino, The Departed, and The Irishman providing inside looks at the ruthless realm of organized crime and its iron-fisted kingpins, ruthless hitmen, and petty hoods. Though The Wolf of Wall Street explores an entirely different universe in an entirely different tone, this riveting Scorsese epic could easily stand alongside those American classics, because the culture of greed, power, indulgence, and corruption it depicts is almost a mirror image of the criminal underworld.
In this high-stakes universe, hungry packs of wild, unscrupulous animals - also known as stockbrokers - feast on the trusting masses, manipulating and trampling them in a mad rush to pad their personal coffers. And back in the era of excess - the 1980s - nothing was out of bounds, nothing was too much or too outrageous, and nothing could stem the inflated egos or satisfy the insatiable libidos of the Wall Street elite who subsisted on a steady diet of sex, drugs, and money to fuel their mojos. It was an absurd, extravagant, contemptible, and oh-so-seductive time, and Jordan Belfort - who began his career in 1987 at the ripe old age of 25 - quickly became its poster boy.
Belfort's train-wreck story - much like the odyssey of mobster-turned-informant Henry Hill in GoodFellas - is that much more captivating because it's true...or as true as someone who made millions lying, cheating, and swindling would have us believe. The Wolf of Wall Street, adapted by Terence Winter from Belfort's salacious memoir, presents that "truth" in the spirit of its "hero," an arrogant, self-absorbed prick in the Gordon Gekko mold, who charms us and plays us the same way he charms and plays his ignorant customers. Belfort made his fortune hawking penny stocks, largely worthless investments that yield huge commissions, and his earnings helped him build a massive brokerage firm that defrauded countless investors and funded Belfort's unbelievably lavish lifestyle until zealous federal investigators brought him down. Like Jordan, Scorsese's film is out of control and over the top, a wicked yet searing black comedy that instantly hooks us with titillating and taboo imagery and drags us on a dizzying three-hour ride through the basest elements of humanity. Some have found it offensive...and it is. It's also brilliant.
Brilliant because Scorsese knows that world well, recognizes its inherent ridiculousness, and lays it out on the screen in a manner that both nostalgically celebrates and incisively skewers it. The Wolf of Wall Street is a hysterically funny film that satirizes its subject and all its defining elements - the wild parties, macho sensibility, cult mentality, and lewd behavior - while making a serious statement about its destructive and unconscionable nature. It's rich and rambling and raucous and revolting, packed with memorable dialogue and distinguished by dazzling style, and like a speeding juggernaut, it moves, embracing the go, go, go timbre of the times, barreling ahead and taking no prisoners along the way. Wall Street in the '80s and '90s was an exaggerated world and Scorsese tells Bellfort's exaggerated story in an exaggerated fashion. Cruder than GoodFellas, but with the same sense of wonder, Scorsese opens our eyes to a culture we may have read or heard about, but never experienced, and this vicarious immersion is an absolute blast for those who view the film in its proper context.
Jordan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a "lower than pond scum" everyman who becomes a superman, quickly rising through the ranks, using his wiles and guile to play a heady game by his own set of renegade rules. He manipulates the system to his advantage, develops a legion of devoted disciples, and builds a formidable business where only the almighty dollar is more fervently worshipped than he. Jordan could be you or me; he didn't necessarily set out to live a psychedelic fantasy or become the Jim Jones or L. Ron Hubbard of Wall Street, but circumstances and his own ambition created the opportunity and he embraced it. And watching him live it up and screw it up - especially as depicted by Scorsese - is terrifically entertaining.
Much has been made of the movie's rampant vulgarity - its 500-plus f-bombs, copious amounts of coke snorting, lude popping, and full-frontal female nudity, mistreatment of dwarfs, and an especially shocking scene of masturbation (although the part of Jonah Hill's penis was played by a prosthetic) - but to properly and truthfully tell Belfort's story you can't sugarcoat the impropriety, and Scorsese wisely doesn't hold anything back. With an almost maniacal glee, he immerses his audience in a world most of us can't fathom, and like he does in his Mafia films, he makes this counter-culture fascinating, even bizarrely appealing. Belfort represents the American Dream on steroids; he symbolizes everything that's right and wrong about our country, and while we don't condone how he and his fellow snakes swindle, abuse, disrespect, and deride average joes, we love watching them work their larcenous magic, then take comfort in their downfall. Like Little Caesar and The Public Enemy, The Wolf of Wall Street depicts a lofty figure's rise and fall and is both a classic morality and cautionary tale, yet unlike those Prohibition-era gangster yarns, it's a serious film that doesn't take itself seriously.
Though the Academy felt differently, DiCaprio should have won the Best Actor Oscar for his bravura portrayal of the greedy, lustful, and egomaniacal Jordan. Impeccably measured yet wonderfully natural, DiCaprio channels his inner asshole and makes this jerk likable, even endearing. Without losing weight or gaining weight or undergoing any against-type, award-baiting transformation, he embodies Belfort and disappears inside him. It's a passionate, full-throttle performance that inspires tremendous admiration for DiCaprio's seemingly limitless talents.
Matthew McConaughey took home the Best Actor prize that year (don't get me started!) and his small part in The Wolf of Wall Street, which he milks for all it's worth, just might have iced his victory. As the eccentric, chest-thumping mentor who advises the young Jordan to rely on cocaine and masturbation to stay sharp and relieve stress, he steals his few brief scenes, making an indelible impression and crafting a performance that eclipses his work in Dallas Buyers Club. Jonah Hill is also terrific as Jordan's gluttonous right-hand man whose voracious appetite for all things illegal helps ignite this incendiary tale, and Margot Robbie lights up the screen as Jordan's fiery second wife. Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, and Jon Favreau make strong impressions, too.
The Wolf of Wall Street marked the fifth collaboration between Scorsese and DiCaprio (three more are reportedly in the works), and it's unquestionably their finest effort to date...the perfect marriage of director and project, actor and role. Here, they bring out each other's best, and their symbiotic relationship makes the film's engine purr. The Wolf of Wall Street always will be controversial and will surely spark some spirited debate. It's the type of film you either love or loathe, but whatever your opinion, its artistic merit remains undeniable. It may not be a masterpiece, but it's certainly a masterwork by one of the finest craftsmen in Hollywood history and contains arguably the best performance by one of the greatest actors of our generation.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra-HD Blu-ray
The Wolf of Wall Street arrives on 4K UHD packaged in a standard case inside a sleeve. A leaflet containing a code to access the digital copy is tucked inside the front cover. (A 1080p Blu-ray disc is not included in the package.) Video codec is 2160p/HEVC H.265 with Dolby Vision and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the full-motion menu with music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.
The 2014 Wolf of Wall Street Blu-ray set a high bar for its 4K UHD upgrade, but this 2160p/HEVC H.265 transfer with Dolby Vision rises to the challenge and eclipses its exceptional predecessor. Before anyone gets too excited, though, it's important to note the improvements are subtle and rarely produce the hoped-for jaw-dropping reactions. In other words, this disc is no Casino, but let's face it, The Wolf of Wall Street is a different, far less flashy entity. Shot by cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (who would go on to photograph Silence and The Irishman for Scorsese), the film sports a colder, less elegant look to reflect New York's harsh concrete jungle and the financial world's sterile corporate atmosphere. Heightened clarity, better contrast, and bolder color distinguish this transfer, which - according to a Paramount press release - was "supervised by Scorsese," but there's a limit to how far the picture's various elements can be pushed.
Highlights abound. Images like quaaludes splashing in beers, the fibers of $100 bills, the ridges on DiCaprio's palm as he holds a handful of pills, and the textures of costumes and fabrics are all marvelously crisp. Colors, like the yellows of taxi cabs, the red paint on a sports car, Naomi's blue dress when she first meets Jordan, the azure hue of the Caribbean Sea, and Donnie's salmon sweater exude far more depth and richness than they do on the Blu-ray. Blacks are richer, whites are brighter, flesh tones look truer, and close-ups showcase such fine details as wispy hairs, pores, and stubble. The occasional slow-motion shots are sharp and stable, and the faint grain is beautifully resolved, resulting in a picture that flaunts a lovely film-like feel.
The heightened clarity does call greater attention to the processed green-screen backdrops sprinkled throughout the film (the one of Italy's coastline looks particularly obvious and artificial) and a few scenes appear a bit flat, but those are minor quibbles. The lack of a true wow factor prevents this transfer from earning five stars, but that shouldn't keep any avid admirer of this Scorsese masterwork from upgrading. If you want to save a few bucks, though, hanging onto your Blu-ray wouldn't be a tragedy.
The exact same DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track from the Blu-ray has been ported over to this 4K UHD release. It's too bad there's no Atmos audio option, but this track gets the job done. Here's what I said about it back in 2014:
"The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track isn't as active as I might have hoped, but its excellent modulation unifies all the sonic elements into a cohesive whole and provides a satisfying aural experience. Surround activity ebbs and flows, with potent accents bleeding into the rears especially during the wild party scenes, episodes of office chaos, and, most notably, the turbulent yacht storm sequence. Other than that, the majority of sound remains anchored up front, but it's enhanced by some noticeable stereo separation and a purity of tone that allows subtle nuances to shine. The wide dynamic scale handles the bright highs and weighty lows with ease while keeping distortion at bay, though the subwoofer doesn't get much opportunity to strut its stuff.
Scorsese almost always augments his movies with a soundtrack of eclectic tunes perfectly paired to the on-screen action, and the songs, which range from Billy Joel and Eartha Kitt to Bo Diddley and Devo, all fill the room with ease, thanks to exceptional fidelity and marvelous tonal depth. Dialogue, however, fuels the film's engine, and it's reproduced well here. Whether whispered or shouted, delivered in a quiet room or amid the roar of a poolside bash, the expletive-laced lines are always clear and comprehendible.
Though not quite reference quality, the lossless audio complements the film well and there's enough varied activity to keep the ear engaged. Good job, Paramount."
A couple of supplements that weren't included on the original Blu-ray, as well as the featurette that was, add some extra appeal to this 4K UHD disc.
Featurette: "The Wolf Pack" (UHD, 17 minutes) - Substance comes at a premium in this breezy, classy, previously released featurette that contains cogent comments from almost every principal cast member and producer and features lots of behind-the-scenes footage. An articulate DiCaprio dominates the piece and, in addition to lauding the cast and crew, calls The Wolf of Wall Street "one of the most enjoyable experiences I've ever had." Most of the participants praise Scorsese's philosophy and artistry, talk about the unpredictable atmosphere on the set, and recall the enormous amount of improvisation that occurred during shooting. Scorsese shares his thoughts as well, and it's always a treat to hear this iconic director discuss his work. Though far from essential viewing, this featurette is fast-paced and entertaining, and fans will enjoy checking it out.
Featurette: "Running Wild" (UHD, 11 minutes) - DiCaprio anchors this slick featurette and talks about various subjects, including the "bold, daring, and dangerous" elements of the film, how he brought the colorful Jordan Belfort to life, and the "intense and terrifying" quaalude scene. Scorsese says he required "total freedom" to properly craft the picture, while screenwriter Terence Winter discusses the material's challenging nature and Belfort's myriad addictions. Jonah Hill, Rob Reiner, Margot Robbie, Jon Favreau, and various crew members also share their views about this outrageous movie.
The Wolf of Wall Street Round Table (UHD, 11 minutes) - DiCaprio, Scorsese, Hill, and Winter get into the film's nitty-gritty, discussing the script's development, the cast's improvisation, the rehearsal process, their respective characters, DiCaprio's virtuoso performance and amazing contortions during the classic quaalude sequence, and the notorious party scenes (which DiCaprio calls "gross"). Scorsese also talks about his rewarding collaboration with DiCaprio in this intimate and absorbing piece.
Nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, and Adapted Screenplay, The Wolf of Wall Street stands as one of the most audacious films of this young century, and all the outrageous, disturbing antics look even more vivid in 4K UHD. This epic chronicle of greed, larceny, bad behavior, and the heady, destructive trappings of excess charts the rise and fall of both a man and an era with an attitude as cocksure as its eponymous character and plenty of Scorsese panache. Brash, bold, and searingly funny, this often shockingly depraved black comedy keeps us transfixed throughout its three-hour running time, thanks to Leonardo DiCaprio's dazzling portrayal, Terence Winter's snappy, expletive-laced script, and Scorsese's pitch-perfect treatment of the subject.
Paramount's 4K UHD presentation with Dolby Vision improves upon the Blu-ray, but doesn't knock our socks off, and the lack of any audio upgrade is disappointing. A couple of supplements that didn't make it onto the Blu-ray sweeten the deal, but unless you're a diehard fan of this film an upgrade isn't essential. On the other hand, if you've never hopped aboard this wild and crazy cinematic ride and have a 4K UHD setup, this is the version to get. The Wolf of Wall Street is howlingly good and it comes very highly recommended.