The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), written by Terence Winter, is perhaps the most “memeable” movie of the 21st century. But how’s the screenplay? Let’s analyze it.
- Draft Read: Undated
- Type: Shooting
- Page Count: 138
- Reading Speed: Medium
- Setting(s): NYC, Switzerland, On a Yacht, England
- Plot Structure: Linear, Spanning multiple years
- Genre(s): Biopic
- Theme(s): Drugs, Drug addiction, Sex, Entrepreneurship, Crime, Competitiveness
- Protagonist Change: Moderate
The Wolf of Wall Street. Leo’s best performance? Perhaps. It’s certainly a much better script than another film he starred in, The Beach (2000). One can tell pretty quickly that Winter gets storytelling on fundamental level.
Dialogue. So many memorable lines, “I’m not leaving,” “The show goes on,” etc. In fact, many of the best lines are from the one speech in which Jordan signs his own downfall by agreeing to stay at Stratton Oakmont.
Another great screenwriting technique is using voiceovers to share what the characters are saying. For example, on Page 84:
Want me to see if tanks are rolling down the Rue de la Croix?
More chuckles. Through Jordan’s forced smile:
What I’m asking, you Swiss dick, is are you going to fuck me over?
I understand perfectly, you American shitheel.
On the surface, one would expect this somewhat corny technique not to work. Or at least, a screenwriting teacher might say something like, “The reader should know characters’ intentions without them explicitly stating it.”
But the use of the V.O. actually helps us confirm we understand what is going on in the conversation (helping avoid cognitive overload) and keeps the conversation moving at a quick pace, thereby avoiding drawn-out charades seen in conventional film. For example, in A Civil Action (1998), there is a slow scene between the protagonist and another lawyer in which the other lawyer gives him a large monetary offer using a $20 bill. It’s a good scene, but a substantial amount of time is given to the viewer to figure out what is going on before the viewer is thrown into another scene where it’s explained what happened (a different unique technique from that film).
It’s somewhat unclear if Donnie ratted Jordan out (Jordan warned Donnie he was wearing a wire) or if the FBI just found out what happened.
The story message (if there is one?) or central argument is unclear. I’m reminded of Uncut Gems (2019), another great movie where drug addiction is a central element. But like said movie, does The Wolf of Wall Street struggle to offer any sort of strong message?
Women are essentially objectified in the film, with a couple of exceptions.
The plot is pretty straightforward: A rags-to-riches story. The simultaneous descent into drug addiction, and it’s ramifications such as impulsive behavior.
The ending, and overall message, is trickier to decipher. Who wins? Agent Denham, who put Jordan in jail? Or Jordan, who served a couple years in prison then got out? Well, Jordan is kind-of sort-of described as having the last laugh (Page 134):
… and (Denham) realizes he’s right where Jordan said he’d be: commuting home on the subway, like any other piker.
Maybe Denham won the battle and Belfort the war. I’m really not sure. It’s far too ambiguous, with a far more generous depiction of Jordan than one would expect.
Great characters all around. Even the supporting characters are well built out, such as Jordan’s dad Max, who is described as professional, having a slight British accent in formal situations, and vulgar in private. Ha.
Dialogue & Pacing
The dialogue is, as noted, the script’s strength. One interesting note is that Jordan often speaks directly to the camera by using a V.O. (is that breaking the fourth wall, I’m not sure). Here’s an example (Page 85):
He was telling me to use a rathole: Problem was: sneaking a U.S. rathole into Switzerland was a chance I couldn’t take. What I needed was a European passport.
Some good comedy too. Another scene that uses voiceover (Page 17):
There were other things about him (Donnie) too, like his phosphorescent white teeth and the fact that he wore horn rims with clear lenses to look more waspy. He also married his first cousin–
Delivered deadpan, if I recall correctly.
The pacing varied between quick sequences to show long passages of time and somewhat slower scenes during pivotal moments. Suffice to say, it worked. The only part that didn’t quite hit the mark was the weak climax (unclear when this was) and ending, which more or less vindicated Jordan.
There are some impactful scenes. For example, Jordan trying to flee with his young daughter when he finds out his wife is planning to file for divorce. But all in all, this is a fun, somewhat outlandish and entertaining film, not a very deep one. In ways, it felt like the story was told from the perspective of the party-central frat brother who was kicked out of school after one semester (there’s always one). Of course, perhaps that’s who Jordan was.
Best Part of The Script
- Jordans speech to the brokers (Start on Page 68).
- Jordan and Denham meeting on Jordan’s yacht (Start on Page 73).
- The meeting with the Swiss banker (Page 83).