Let ‘em think that. The world is full of dickheads, and if a movie is what it takes to inspire the next Bernie Madoff, then that particular joker was probably well on his way before seeing Leo snort cocaine out of a hooker’s ass.
Pardon me if my language is more coarse than usual, but I’ve just seen three hours of debauchery so debauched that I’m amazed The Wolf of Wall Street ended up with an R rating instead on an NC-17. (That’s probably because there are no penises on screen, which the MPAA hates, but there’s plenty of everything else.)
In any event, The Wolf of Wall Street is about as pure cinema as a movie can get. It uses every celluloid (or at this point, digital) trick up its sleeve to tell the tale of Belfort and his pals—including Donnie Azoff (a superb Jonah Hill with great fake teeth), Nicky “Rugrat” Koskoff (PJ Byrne), and some other guys who come and go as the script demands—from huge crane shots to CGI boating mishaps to slo-mo drug binges, to DiCaprio talking to the screen. It’s the best use of breaking the fourth wall since Matthew Broderick yapped to the audience in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
What makes Belfort’s soliloquies (such as they are) so brilliant is that they all begin as tales of “This is how we ripped off this company…” until they devolve into him admitting that he knows the audience doesn’t care; they just want to see the shenanigans.
Like all tales of overpowering greed, Belfort begins small as a caller for Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), who is impressed that Belfort pitched a stock in his job interview. Soon they’re at lunch and Hanna—swilling martinis and snorting coke—explains the best way to get rich is to screw the client, and the best way to do as much as possible in 24 hours is ingest a lot of drugs.
It’s a message Belfort takes to heart. Soon he’s passed his Series 7 exam and is making a ton of money, until the Black Monday crash bounces him from a job. He resorts to selling penny stocks at a call center in Long Island, and before long he’s the top broker, and he sets up shop with his pals.
And then: Drugs. Sex. And despite an absence of on screen rock ’n’ roll, there’s plenty on the soundtrack (this is Scorsese, after all). Two of the three hours of The Wolf of Wall Street detail Belfort’s excesses while he tries to stay ahead of an FBI investigation led by Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler, putting his scowl and smile to good use).
And there isn’t much of a message to The Wolf of Wall Street, except that crime doesn’t pay—oh, wait! Actually it does. That’s the message, and it’s an angry message. Belfort is funny in a grotesque sort of way, and DiCaprio gives what is essentially a comic performance—watch him navigate a brick staircase after he’s loses motor skills while on particularly strong Quaaludes—but Scorsese wants to remind us that Belfort is a bad dude.
In case that message is lost on the audience—and some will miss it—it’s telegraphed in the scenes when Belfort’s wife Naomi (Margot Robbie) announces she wants a divorce.
Most of all, The Wolf of Wall Street is grand storytelling. It’s a story we’ve seen before (Boiler Room; Wall Street), but we never learn the lesson, so why not keep telling it? And Scorsese tells this tale better than anyone.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
Directed by Martin Scorsese
With Leonard DiCaprio, Jonah Hill and Margot Robbie
Regal Santa Fe Stadium 14