DiCaprio, Hill absolutely captivate with sleazy portrayals of Wall Street crooks
Surprisingly funny, consistently vulgar and perhaps 45 minutes too long, “The Wolf of Wall Street” is a tale of excess not easily matched. Based on the 2007 memoir with the same title by Jordan Belfort, who was sentenced to nearly two years in jail in 1998 for securities fraud and money laundering, “Wolf” brings star Leonardo DiCaprio and director Martin Scorsese together again. What a duo these two make.
Let’s get right down to it: This movie screams “obscene” in every measurement possible. The rise and fall of Belfort (DiCaprio), who made a fortune aggressively (and illegally) running a penny stock boiler room, is punctuated with debauchery so intense, so overwhelming most will feel outraged at the ludicrous life this man lives.
Which is only exacerbated considering Belfort, who narrates his self-inflicted crash-and-burn, offers literally no remorse. None. He’s completely aware of what he’s doing, and he couldn’t care less.
I mean, this man bilked investors out of millions, led a life of serial drug abuse, frequently entertained prostitutes and once held an office party where he threw a midget at a nerf/velcro dartboard for fun.
He even trades up for a new wife, Naomi (Margot Robbie), whom he calls his Duchess of Bayside.
If you find yourself flooded with contempt, you weren’t the only one. It’s hard to relate to a man you tries to bribe FBI agents, drunken lands a helicopter after a bender and sinks a yacht once owned by Coco Chanel. And man, that drug use. We’re talking full-blown addict with a penchant for cocaine and Quaaludes.
If you’re expecting character growth for Belfort, you will be sorely disappointed. From his entrance as a 22-year-old college grad on Wall Street, he’s money-hungry and sex-addicted. All that changes throughout the years is the degree to which he satisfies his base instincts.
That’s not the story for all the characters, though. Captivating us once more, Jonah Hill goes above and beyond as Donnie, Jordan’s partner in these less-than-legal stock and IPO works. His antics and character qualities don’t engender any more positive feeling than DiCaprio’s Belfort, but the pure sleaze he oozes is fantastically intense.
Which presents a bit of a conundrum. You see, you may feel contempt toward the principal characters, but you still find yourself watching a movie that places perhaps too much value in their hedonistic lifestyles. It’s almost as if Scorsese tries to inject so much worthy of contempt and disapproval you find you’re having yourself a time as the debauchery streams across the screen in profanity-dominated perpetuity.
That’s not to say “Wolf” doesn’t have its moments, because it certainly does. Plenty of scenes in this black comedy will have you laughing at the outrageous nature of it all. Seeing Belfort, addled by some super intense Quaaludes (now illegal in the U.S.), take a slow tumble down some country-club stairs is absolutely hilarious. A conference meeting about the legality of midget tossing is illuminating in all the wrong ways.
In the end, “The Wolf of Wall Street” feels like Scorsese wanted to blend his “GoodFellas” with so much vanity and greed you’re get nauseous. Its look at the lack of morality on Wall Street isn’t exactly groundbreaking, and better movies better portray this level of greed and desire. Still, you can’t help but enjoy yourself when you Belfont, on a yacht being battered by vicious ocean waves, is screaming at Danny, saying “I won’t die sober!” Words to live by, no doubt.
Four darkly greedy stars out of five.