Leonardo DiCaprio struggles with Jonah Hill in Martin Scorsese's broker romp "The Wolf of Wall Street." Credit: Paramount Pictures
‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ Director: Martin Scorsese Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill Rating: R 4 (out of 5) Globes
Most freewheeling rise-and-fall sagas assume that part of you, maybe even quite a large one, wants to partake in what’s onscreen. Few may actually want to be a homicidal, untrustworthy gangster, but for the 2 ½ hours it takes to watch Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas,” one can entertain that fantasy. The big joke in Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” is that being a relentlessly hedonistic, pill-popping, hooker-banging, greedy capitalist is considerably less appealing than being a murderer. It exists to test how much we'll enjoy being in the shoes of sinful character. It may be fun for a bit, but even three hours with these monsters proves exhausting. The experience is less a dream projected in front of us than a phantasmagoric nightmare to be watched anthropologically.
Introduced throwing a dwarf around the office just because they can, our anti-heroes are little more than a bunch of frat boy douchebags. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort is their fearless leader, a young scrap mentored by a martini addict (Matthew McConaughey, thumping his chest and making mouth-music in what is regrettably a cameo). He and his followers, including bestie Donnie (Jonah Hill, with false teeth), work their way up from peddling penny stocks to schnooks to scoring ridiculously tony manses, all without actually selling anything one can physically see.
“The Wolf of Wall Street” lacks “Goodfellas”’ shape, attractive characters, their wit and — with one glorious exception, involving super-quaaludes, a Lamborghini and a roll of bologna — instant classic set pieces. That’s by design. It’s a dirge, meant to trap us in a boy’s club purgatory. (There are few female roles, though the most prominent one — Margot Robbie’s Bay Ridge trophy wife — is at least as ruthless as the guys, if more sympathetic.) The real-life Belfort has been struggling to atone for his sins, but the one here is remorseless, smirking and giddy as he pursues every carnal, hard-R-rated desire. The film is a comedy because these jerks don’t deserve to be taken seriously — and, because their ’80s scumbaggery was replaced by an even more dangerous, economy-sinking breed, we don’t deserve anything more reflective. Not for nothing does the film feature in its final act Hill shouting, “F— you, USA!”
The singlemindedness is its strength and weakness. It’s intended to be monotonous — although, in Scorsese’s propulsive hands, it rarely is. It’s chock-filled with quotables, some pouring out of DiCaprio’s bragging narration track, many from Jonah Hill. The inclusion of an Apatow alum allows for lots of apparent ad-libbing, which partly explains the elephantine length. In a way, this is Scorsese’s keyed-up version of an Apatow long-player, only with shots and technique that not only functions but delight.