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'The Wolf of Wall Street' review: Feed the geese or implode

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The Wolf of Wall Street

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Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) hasn't always been "The Wolf of Wall Street." He had to start at the bottom and work his way up, which is very unusual for the career of a stock broker. After going through the proper channels, learning all he could from his boss Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), and finally becoming a licensed broker in late 1987, Jordan fails to make a splash his first day on the job thanks to the stock market crash. Wasting little time, Jordan branches out on his own, hires Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) as well as a group of men who mostly sell marijuana to work for him. Jordan then creates his own company entitled Stratton Oakmont, Inc. and sells penny stocks to make his fortune. But participating in such shady operations can only last so long and the FBI, agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) especially, eventually catches up with Jordan.

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Jordan goes through a very long winded rundown of how wealthy he is at the start of "The Wolf of Wall Street" that begins as a voiceover and evolves into a breaking-the-4th-wall sequence where the main character of the film talks to the audience; a sequence that Martin Scorsese has become notorious for. It's something that will be revisited over and over again throughout the film that usually results in Jordan cutting himself short and jumping to broader terms because according to the film's writers, "you don't give a f--- anyway.” As you realize that drugs, alcohol, and sex will take a priority over absolutely everything else in the film, Jordan does finally get to something more worthwhile when he introduces the concept of surviving on Wall Street and how an individual goes about doing that.

This is around the time Matthew McConaughey comes in and while he only has a few brief scenes he's still able to leave quite an impression on the audience. McConaughey is engaging, especially in his one lengthened scene with DiCaprio in the restaurant. Their conversation about stock brokers not knowing what they're doing and the importance of masturbating and cocaine in the industry sets the film off on a high note. Jonah Hill is almost androgynous in his role as Donnie. With his wide overbite, massive glasses, terrible fashion sense, and openness of being married to his first cousin, Hill has this Pat from "Saturday Night Live" aura about him. Hill's chemistry with the rest of the cast and his on-screen presence is as engrossing as he was in "Moneyball."

Stratton Oakmont is just a madhouse; a circus full of nothing but drunken tomfoolery, unclean orgies, and forgotten drugs. The Jordan Belfort character is built up as big as humanly possible, so that his fall from grace makes that much more of an impact. Scorsese seems to circle around these films that have protagonists that flourish because of their demons and their flaws while having these skeletons in their closets that they're convinced no one will ever find because they believe themselves to be invincible. These characters attempt to keep their secrets under lock and key at first, but they eventually become more cocky and egotistical until those secrets are discovered and they crash and burn because of them.

Jordan Belfort has "Scarface" syndrome in the sense that he basically thinks he's this untouchable God that can get away with anything before finally being busted and never bouncing back. The highlight of the film is the cerebral palsy stage of the Lemmon 714 drug Jordan and Donnie take. Their scuffle afterward is incredible for all of the wrong reasons and is followed by a demonstration of why we have cordless phones today. The film does tend to drag in places and is fairly obnoxious the majority of the time, but actually feels somewhat sincere once Jordan is forced to step away from the company he created.

The film follows this very familiar story structure. It's as if Scorsese stripped all of the mafia elements out of "Goodfellas," threw in some material about Wall Street, altered the script and cast a bit, and added a “Casino” amount of vulgarity and called it a day. It's basically broken down like this; a warped character having a dream or desire, that character slowly rising to the top, becoming overconfident while being hunted by the authorities, and then that character spiraling down from a man-made heaven. The only difference is that female characters aren't quite as intolerable in "The Wolf of Wall Street." In fact, the women are quite mellow for a Scorsese film.

"The Wolf of Wall Street" is a testosterone fueled, hallucinogenic fever dream driven by verbose dialogue, sweaty prostitute sex, and snorting cocaine from an unsuspecting rectum. Its plethora of similarities to "Goodfellas" weighs the film down rather than giving it a boost.

"The Wolf of Wall Street" will be released theatrically starting Wednesday, December 25.

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