Big Bad <em>Wolf</em>: Martin Scorsese’s Latest Is a Showpiece of Wicked Cinematic Exorbitance

Leonardo DiCaprio as real-life Long Island con man Jordan Belfort

Big macher.
Big macher.

The Wolf of Wall Street has been awarded a nose-thumbing Bronx cheer by some critics as noisy, vulgar, flashy, disgusting and over the top— the same reasons they adored the talented but self-indulgent Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, one of the dreariest, most pointless and ludicrously overrated films of the year. O.K., it has all those things, not to mention nudity, violence, graphic sex, out-of-control drug use and filthy dialogue. It is also sensational entertainment. This $100 million extravaganza is—let’s face it—rampantly over the top. Hell, it’s by Martin Scorsese, who is always over the top. But unlike the Coen brothers, who have been getting away with murder for years, he puts thrilling stuff on the screen that is unforgettable.

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In good movies or bad, his never-ending collaborations with Leonardo DiCaprio (and his last one, the pretentious Shutter Island, was a real stinker) always fill the screen with something good to look at. This time, it’s all true. Terence Winter’s action-packed screenplay about the rise and fall of Jordan Belfort is based on the confessional memoir by the reckless multimillionaire stockbroker, who served nearly two years in prison for defrauding high-profile investors in a Wall Street corruption scandal that included banking industry big shots and celebrities. (A few boldface names have been changed to avoid litigation.) Clocking in just short of three hours’ running time, it needs a pair of scissors, another trip to the editing room and an intermission, but if you don’t have a bladder problem, The Wolf of Wall Street goes by as fast as a nap by the pool in Acapulco.

The saga is long, and Mr. Scorsese seems hell-bent on filming every minute of it, but he never wastes your time doing it. The movie opens with a naked Mr. DiCaprio snorting cocaine from the graphic spaces between a hooker’s wide-open legs (use your imagination, dude), and we’re off to the races. The sprawling narrative moves around in jumping time frames, narrated by Mr. DiCaprio in passages from the Belfort book, that take you from his arrogant beginnings as a 22-year-old penny broker from Long Island, one of hundreds of Ivy League pin-stripers anxious to conquer the world of finance, climbing out of the ashes of Black Monday to sell penny stocks at 6 cents per share in his own self-made investment brokerage firm operating out of an abandoned storefront. His fledgling staff is headed by Donnie Azoff (super-charged Jonah Hill), a pudgy wannabe who is so dumb he thinks jujitsu is a town in Israel. Moving it up a notch, Belfort graduates to selling blue chip stocks for 50 percent commissions, and a hatchet job in Forbes catapults him to superstardom.

By the year he turned 26, he made $49 million, funneling most of it up his nose. Orgies on chartered planes with 50 hookers and enough drugs to fly without gasoline. A weekend that cost $2 million plus the renovation of an entire floor of the Mirage Hotel. Marriage to a gorgeous playgirl who becomes his long-suffering wife and the mother of his child (a stunning Margot Robbie, who is worth keeping an eye on, for more reasons than one) with a 150-foot yacht as a wedding present. You get it all in lush, knockout set pieces that look like they were designed for Technicolor. No wonder Leo smelled a film with enough excess to make The Great Gatsby look like Tobacco Road.

Consuming enough drugs to sedate all of Manhattan, Belfort and his sidekick, Donnie, pull out the stops, most notably in a very long sequence in which they overdose on Quaaludes and vodka in the middle of a botched attempt to smuggle $2 million out of a Swiss bank, moving from the living room to a country club and back again, plummeting down a flight of stairs, projectile vomiting, smashing up cars and wrecking the furniture. All you can do is observe all of this wicked cinematic exorbitance with your mouth wide open, follow all of the illegal tricks they pull to climb the ladder to success and wait for the crash. In the meantime, you can thrill to Leo’s loosest, most passionate performance to date and applaud Mr. Hill, who matches his madness every step of the way. The movie fails to make any of its characters appealing, and I didn’t much care what happened to them, but when the downfall comes at last, propelled by handsome Kyle Chandler as FBI investigator Patrick Denham, I was almost sorry to see their escapades coming to an end. Others were racing for the exit doors.

From bit parts by Matthew McConaughey, Jean Dujardin (The Artist), Christine Ebersole, Rob Reiner and Fran Lebowitz to Ahmad Jamal jazz and Brioni suits, the movie wears its labels well. The sets are ravishing. The cinematography dazzles. There’s so much going on that you don’t blink for fear that you might miss something. Did I say over the top? I meant over the moon. Against my better judgment, there were times in The Wolf of Wall Street when I was over the moon myself.

WRITTEN BY Terence Winter
DIRECTED BY Martin Scorsese
STARRING Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill and Jon Favreau

Big Bad <em>Wolf</em>: Martin Scorsese’s Latest Is a Showpiece of Wicked Cinematic Exorbitance