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The Wolf of Wall Street– Movie Review

Submitted by on December 27, 2013 – 3:55 pmNo Comment

The Wolf of Wall Street is insane, anarchic fun from a cinematic master. It surpasses The Departed as a depiction of hedonistic rock-and-roll-scored criminality, and could be Martin Scorsese’s best film in this vein since Casino. (Is it a coincidence that, according to Wikipedia, Wolf and Casino occupy the fifth and sixth spots respectively for most uses of the F-word in a film?)

Based on a true story, Wolf follows Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), a kid from Queens who makes millions off of penny stocks, becoming one of the first people to figure out how to sell these garbage companies to blue chip investors. But mostly, he and his band of criminals and misfits (Jonah Hill, in one of his best performances to date) exist to maintain a near constant state of inebriation and fornication. Dramatic tension is supplied by the constant threat of federal inquiry and an FBI Boy Scout (Kyle Chandler), but the real suspense and entertainment comes from wondering if the whole enterprise will just implode.

By depicting the brokers as unrepentant bullies, Scorsese may ironically have made the most sympathetic Wall Street movie in a subgenre that has sought to figure out just how the hell we got here (Margin Call, Too Big To Fail). Belfort and his cronies are terrible people, pure and simple. But they’re terrible people who stick together- and taken as a whole, that makes them very human.

Additionally, the film never shows any victims of Belfort’s financial crimes, making it easier to believe that their are none. And he alludes midway through the film to the names we know from headlines: Morgan Stanley, Lehmann, and Goldman. As a Wall Street film, this (for better or worse) artificially distances Belfort from the criminals we know, focusing instead on the personal narrative.

The three-hour movie rarely drags, thanks in large part to the absurd performances turned in by DiCaprio and Hill. It’s as if Scorsese contributed tons of violence, blow, and a cinematic eye to a Judd Apatow film. A lengthy sequence involving the duo having the mother-of-all Quaalude trips has to be one of the funniest and most terrifying sequences on film in recent memory, and its one of many that take their drug-fueled antics to bold extremes. (It must be said, it’s pretty amazing a director in his 70′s could turn out this kind of film. I imagined Scorsese like Aunt Emma (Joanna Lumley) in the movie: dignified nobility who “lived through the 60′s,” and can now see the absurdity of it all.)

But all of this leaves the audience in an unsteady place, perhaps intentionally. Belfort pays lightly for his crimes, it seems, and we leave him as he continues to bilk poor schm*cks of their money. The film closes on the shot of an audience full of these schm*cks, starring out at us- another audience that has forked over our hard-earned money, expecting to get something from Belfort. We’ve been duped- what are we supposed to think of that?

Did you see The Wolf of Wall Street? What did you think?

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