Wolf of Wall Street ✮✮1/2
Horatio Alger on ’Ludes
by Glenn Lovell
Yes, it’s nice to have Martin Scorsese back. After a bizarre detour into Tim Burton territory (remember “Hugo”?), the director returns with an episodic tale of white-collar crime that mixes mountains of drugs, boardroom orgies, and what is essentially an inside-out Horatio Alger story. Once again, we’re considering the dark underbelly of the American Dream. What-a-country! As Travis Bickle and Henry Hill taught us, anybody can accomplish anything in this lousy, dog-eat-dog world as long as they’re ballsy enough ‒ and willing, at the other end, to pay penance in their own special purgatory.
Unfortunately, “The Wolf of Wall Street,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio as real-life swindler-stockbroker Jordan Belfort, isn’t top-drawer Scorsese. It’s overlong, repetitive, and like the director’s “The Departed,” too often partakes of self-parody. In one especially drawn-out sequence, Belfort and his partner (Jonah Hill), feeling the delayed effects of killer Quaaludes, come to blows in Belfort’s kitchen. It’s every Scorsese confrontation rendered in groggy, super-slo-mo. Funny, no? Not really.
In charting Belfort’s rise and fall ‒ he begins as a “money-crazed little shit” who founds the brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont and, a decade later, lands in a country-club prison after ratting out his colleagues ‒ Scorsese heaps on the pharmaceuticals and bacchanalian sex. We get midget-tossing on the trading floor, sex at 30,000 feet, and a tutorial on “three grades of hookers.” It’s almost as if Scorsese, in his rush to sate every sophomoric urge, has ceded the reins to shock-jock Howard Stern.
DiCaprio, of course, is no stranger to megalomania, in all its smarmy gradations. He has played J. Edgar, Jay Gatsby, and, for Scorsese, Howard Hughes. As Belfort he lets the spittle fly, reeling in clients with penny stocks, schmoozing federal agents, working his day-traders into a lather. Like Ray Liotta in “Goodfellas,” he tells much of his story in manic voiceover. On more than one occasion, he looks straight into the camera and addresses us directly. This device was used sparingly in “Goodfellas.” Here it feels forced, theatrical.
But say what you will about “Wolf,” it won’t put you to sleep. This is Scorsese at full tilt, working with a huge cast and far-flung locations ‒ London, Switzerland, Caribbean getaways … and even (for the obligatory CG effects) the storm-tossed Mediterranean. DiCaprio, who’s a good bet to go all the way in this year’s Oscar sweepstakes, is joined onscreen by Margot Robbie as Belfort’s trophy wife, Matthew McConaughey as a beady-eyed Wall Street guru, Jean Dujardin as a Geneva banker, Rob Reiner as Belfort’s perpetually flabbergasted father, and Kyle Chandler as a dogged FBI agent determined to sink Belfort’s luxury yacht. Ethan Suplee, P.J. Byrne, Kenneth Choi and especially Henry Zebrowski lend strong support as the most faithful of the Stratton Oakmont traders.
Is there a moral here? Does the movie Belfort receive his comeuppance? Not so you would notice. Unlike, say, Sidney Lumet, who refused to let his crooks off the hook (see “Serpico” and “Prince of the City”), Scorsese pays lip-service to the notion that graft doesn’t pay. First and foremost, this is a movie that wallows in excess. To quote one of the characters it’s a “greed-fest.” Scorsese and screenwriter Terence Winter, working from Belfort’s memoir, even pull a cheap last-minute reversal, making their legendary scammer appear more victim than victimizer.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET ✮✮1/2 With Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Rob Reiner, Jean Dujardin, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Jon Bernthal. Directed by Martin Scorsese; scripted by Terence Winter from Jordan Belfort’s book. 179 min. Rated R (for full-frontal nudity, violence, nonstop profanity)