Running Time: 2 hours, 59 minutes
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jean Dujardin, Jon Favreau, Jonah Hill, Spike Jonze, Joanna Lumley, Matthew McConaughey, Rob Reiner
Director: Martin Scorsese
If you’re easily offended by kinky sex, full-frontal nudity, excessive alcohol and drug use, obscene overspending, vulgar language and cruelty toward little people, stay away from The Wolf of Wall Street. You’ll only spoil it for the rest of us.
Those who can handle an ever-escalating orgy of bad male behavior, however, will experience one of the year’s most exhilarating big-screen adrenaline rushes. Director Martin Scorsese’s epic pitch-black comedy, which both revels in and reviles white-collar crime as a gateway to the American dream, spends its first 120 minutes hurtling full-speed ahead before the inevitable downward spiral into sober reflection and legal consequences occurs in the final hour.
This is the 71-year-old filmmaker’s fifth collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio. Never has the actor allowed himself to be less likable — or more watchable — than as Jordan Belfort, a real-life New York stockbroker who made an outrageous fortune by swindling investors in the 1980s and ’90s.
Scorsese echoes his own Goodfellas and Casino, while DiCaprio does a darker spin on his ingratiating con man from Catch Me If You Can (2002). This bastard child of Gordon Gekko and Scarface dusts himself off after launching a career as a Wall Street broker on October 19, 1987 — the very day of the biggest market crash since 1929.
After Belfort’s verbal dexterity lands him a job pitching penny stocks (cheap investments in iffy companies), he’s quickly rolling in dough. Soon he has opened his own Long Island brokerage house, the snootily named Stratton Oakmont, with WASP wannabe buddy Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill, hilariously out of control). The two are aided and abetted by an army of underachievers-turned-eager beavers, panting to learn the tricks behind Belfort’s ill-gotten gains.
Greed is more than good for these bad fellows. It’s the ultimate drug, fueling an endless bacchanal for Belfort and his rowdy followers. Item No. 1 on his hedonistic agenda is to dump his first spouse in favor of a blonde trophy wife, Naomi (the silkily sassy Margot Robbie), who is virtually the only character to voice doubts about their debauched lifestyle.
It’s as if the Delta frat boys from Animal House have taken over your retirement fund, and Bluto knows the password to your account. Rather than college cad Otter using the death of co-ed Fawn Liebowitz to get a date, Wolf offers urbane author Fran Lebowitz as an unamused judge once FBI agents start cracking down on Belfort and his scumbag troops.
As usual, Scorsese likes to jolt the audience with shrewdly cast appearances by famous faces: Matthew McConaughey as Belfort’s coked-up alpha-male mentor; Rob Reiner as Belfort’s apoplectic dad; Jon Favreau as a wily securities lawyer; Spike Jonze as a two-bit strip-mall broker; Joanna Lumley (of Absolutely Fabulous fame) as Naomi’s naughty British aunt; and Jean Dujardin (from The Artist) as an underhanded Swiss banker.
And what would a Marty movie be without a killer soundtrack? The tunes here include the Lemonheads’ peppy version of “Mrs. Robinson”; Simple Minds’ gruff take on the Beach Boys’ “Sloop John B” (the perfect backdrop to a sinking yacht); and the theme from Goldfinger, redone by Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings as a wedding ballad.
If Scorsese goes for baroque in his depiction of wretched excess — how many times must we watch someone snort cocaine, toss cash like confetti or cavort with hookers before we get the idea? — so be it. This master of contemporary cinema has earned the right to be self-indulgent, even at the risk of alienating his audience. And for every repetitive episode, there’s usually a moment of sublime insanity to make up for it.
As for the extended scene in which a Quaalude-addled DiCaprio tumbles down a country club’s brick steps and contorts himself into a pretzel before performing the Heimlich maneuver on a choking Hill, you’ll view it as the breaking point or the comedic highlight of this already-gonzo film.
Jordan Belfort’s eventual rebirth as a motivational speaker provides a key segue to the heedless wealth and ever-shrinking middle class that continue to bedevil the U.S. economy today. No one ever went broke overestimating the public’s hunger for get-rich schemes — not least of them Martin Scorsese.
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