The best way to describe The Wolf of Wall Street: it’s double-live gonzo for the movie theater. It wallows in excess from its display of conspicuous wealth to o the orgiastic display of nudity to the seemingly endless amount of drugs on display. It’s like a mescaline induced day trip through the world of Gordon Gekko of Wall Street.
In an era where income inequality has been on the rise since the release of that Oliver Stone classic, it’s of little surprise that director Martin Scorsese goes into this world. It’s fascinating. It’s vibrant. It’s decadent.
But is it believable?
Ultimately members of the audience will decide that, but there’s little denying that Scorsese throws himself into bringing the story of Jordan Belfort, a Wall Street (he actually operated from Long Island) scuzzbag to the forefront.
And make no mistake about it, Belfort is a scuzzbag. As told by him in the voice and body of Leonardo DiCaprio, the one-time true Wall Street stock broker was once legit before losing his gig in America’s financial district and having to scrape by. That’s until he discovers the joys of selling penny stocks – high risks for his customers and high commissions for him.
In short order, he realizes where his future and fortune lay. He assembles his “merry band of robbers,” including buddy Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) and it’s away they go. The money comes in fast and furious and it corrupts quickly.
Belfort – made extremely likeable by DiCaprio’s performance – trades his high school sweetheart for Naomi (Margot Robbie) a trophy wife who gives off sexuality and knows how to use it for her gain. He buys the mansion, the yacht the multi-million dollar home and effectively sells his soul in the process – not that he really cares.
That’s the most intriguing aspect of Wolf, which is based on a true story, Belfort, who now is a motivational speaker, is unapologetic in his love of drugs, booze when he has no access to drugs and kinky sex. And Scorsese makes little effort to cover up his love of excess. In fact, at one point, Wolf received an NC-17 rating in its initial review by the MPAA. Scorsese had to agree to some trims to get to an R rating. Given the material here, that director’s cut that will eventually show up on blu-ray disc has to be something to behold.
However, the primary reason to see Wolf is DiCaprio himself. As restrained as he was in The Great Gatsby earlier this year, another tale of a man with great wealth, he is more akin to Caligula in The Wolf of Wall Street. He gives Belfort a personality that leaps from the screen and makes it easy to understand why people would willingly follow him down the path to white collar criminality. He’s charismatic, brash, intelligent and always…always charming with a playful glint in his eye that screams “trust me.” Add to the mix a screw-it sense of humor and there is comedic gold.
Much of the comedic relief, however, comes from Hill who turns a bravura performance as Belfort’s partner and equally medicated friend. His presence contributes to many a great moment in Wolf.
Ultimately, the nearly three-hour film, is the Animal House of films that have peered into the financial world, it’s raucous, wildly entertaining and has a good number of those moments.
But with that comes a feeling that the film lingers too long in certain areas as if Scorsese has so much material with which to work that it becomes unwieldy.
For Scorsese and DiCaprio fans, that’s forgivable given the payoff that comes from The Wolf of Wall Street? Is it perfect? No, but it’s a helluva a ride.
Movie: The Wolf of Wall Street
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Rob Reiner
Rated: R for sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language throughout, and for some violence.
Running time: 179 minutes
George’s rating: 3.5-of-5 stars
Check for theaters and showtimes at Atlas Cinemas, Cleveland Cinemas, Fandango.com and MovieTickets.com