The Wolf of Wall Street

Martin Scorsese falls for a crooked broker's long con with The Wolf of Wall Street
GO FOR BROKER: Leonardo DiCaprio plays it broad as Jordan Belfort, the film's titular wolf.

Jordan Belfort, a penny stock billionaire who squandered his loot on helicopters, mansions, yachts and prostitutes, is still at large, and he has just made a distinguished director his mark. The Wolf of Wall Street shows a strangely puerile Martin Scorsese at work. We stuck through his Tibetan Buddhist stage for this?

As the gargantuan hustler, so oversized that he's like a cartoon—this Belfort likes to shag his trophy wife on a bed full of hundred dollar bills—Leonardo Di Caprio pummels the material like Jake LaMotta. As Di Caprio closes in on 40, he's trying to fill the place Jack Nicholson once had as kamikaze actor, devil and joker. He does go big—shoving his jaw forward, giving Mussolini-sized rallying speeches to a room full of salesmen. Scorsese is determined to light his regular star on fire even if it takes putting a lit candle up his butt, as in one pervy scene with a dominatrix. The actor's frenzy is interesting in an abstract sense; as in watching Daffy Duck blow himself up in the famous Warner Brothers cartoon—you ask, what can possibly be next?

Belfort is the narrator of his own life: first, he's a humble, entry-level stockbroker, trying to do it the honest way. He then turns up at the right time and the right place to rock a job in a Long Island strip mall, cold-calling penny-stock salesmen, selling "garbage to garbage men." There he meets his sidekick Donnie (Jonah Hill), with unnaturally bleached teeth and a circular family tree. There's room, during Belfort's climb from obscurity to zillionaire vulgarian, for supporting actors: a refreshing cameo by Matthew McConaughey as a cool stockbroker—urging Belfort to cocaine, strategic masturbation and New Age chest-thumping (McConaughey adds a Texan mantra, a Bob Wills caw); Jean Dujardin, the most genuinely wolfy man in the movie, is a resentful Swiss banker. And Joanna Lumley is a gracious but still alluring British aunt who takes up currency smuggling. Kyle Chandler, who was the drunk father in The Spectacular Now, does some superb Columboing as a superficially friendly Fed investigating Belfort. It's this film's only glimpse at anything like a moral center.

Some of it is inimitable Scorsese—extreme, drooling beastliness. Belfort gets his brains knocked out with 'ludes and is revived by a glass tube of cocaine as the Popeye fanfare plays. While Scorsese was around for the original wave of drug-comedy—he hired Cheech and Chong once—the revival looks like a vintage director trying to join the Frat Pack. (This move is so Greek that Hill does the old fraternity stunt of swallowing a live goldfish.) Wolf of Wall Street's editing has been praised, but it seems built like an Apatow. There are noticeable bumps, as if there'd been several improvised takes to choose from, and the most ridiculous scene always won. You'd be convinced Scorsese forgot everything he knew about slapstick from a scene in which Belfort's furious wife Naomie (Margot Robbie) is getting ready to hurl a glass of water at her husband; it's cut into three shots, a damp gag further dampened by the way it's staged.

Terence Winter's script is unwieldy, as if a mini-series is trying to break out of it. This movie just won't end. The display of tramp-flesh—dozens of hired nudes—is ultimately skeevy. If The Wolf of Wall Street is too realistic to consider Belfort chastened or punished, the details of the scam aren't diabolically clever, either. The way Belfort's crimes are explained to us, there would be more strategy in a smash and grab robbery.

Cinema, with its great facility to convey understanding of people, helps us get under the skins of the people we'd despise. Scorsese has made us understand psychos, scammers and out-and-out killers before. I don't want to value-judge Belfort, but in Wolf, Scorsese doesn't just want us to understand him, and the pleasure he get in screwing his victims. (Belfort is the kind of sales-tapeworm who pantomimes buggering his customers when he's making a telephone hustle.) It's more than that—Scorsese wants us to be Jordan Belfort's sucker.

The Wolf of Wall Street

180 MIN.; R

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