Friday, January 3, 2014
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013)
Excess is the subject and style of Martin Scorsese’s new film based on the memoir of and by Jordan Belfort, a Wall Street broker who spent much of the ‘90s bilking investors out of millions before his indictment for securities fraud and money laundering in 1998. We first meet Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) in October 1987 as an eager up-and-comer mentored by veteran Mark Hanna (a deliciously unhinged Matthew McConaughey) just before Black Monday hits. This sends the newbie desperately reeling to a penny stock company where he thrives by selling junk to unwary investors. From this success he gains a willing student in nebbishy Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) and soon gathers a motley crew of the ethically-challenged with visions of dollar signs dancing in their collective heads, including his accountant father Max (Rob Reiner) and friend Brad (Jon Bernthal), to form Stratton Oakmont. Along the way he acquires beautiful, high maintenance wife Naomi (Margot Robbie) and the unwanted attention of Patrick Denham (an underused Kyle Chandler) of the SEC. In between Belfort’s meteoric rise and fall we are treated to a cavalcade of debauchery that would give Bacchus pause, including sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll (the soundtrack is stellar), as well as a helicopter crash and a shipwreck. Writer Terence Winter consciously apes the criminal confidential structure of Scorsese’s classic GOODFELLAS, but the source material never feels substantial enough to earn comparison. Nevertheless director Scorsese attacks his subject with vitality but relies too heavily on unpruned improvisation, contributing to a bloated run time. A sequence in which Belfort and Azoff cope with the delayed effect of Quaaludes, however, is a minor masterpiece of physical comedy. DiCaprio gives a fearless, full-throttle performance, and Hill makes an apt foil. Surprisingly the filmmakers refrain from moral judgment and, had this been released before the 2008 crash, it may have felt daring. Instead, in 2013 as we watch Belfort, now a “chastened” motivational speaker, demonstrate his sales technique to a crowd of eager acolytes at film’s end, the restraint feels like a cop-out.