Leonardo DiCaprio’s most charismatic performance ever anchors Martin Scorsese’s robust and raunchy lowlifes-of-high-finance comedy “The Wolf of Wall Street.” This is their greatest teaming, a veritable “Citizen Kane” of the post-“greed is good” era – three hours of cocaine and orgies and high living by the sorts of gauche gamblers who brought that age, and the world economy, to its knees.
It is Scorsese’s “La Dolce Vita,” a manic, coke-fueled stock market “Goodfellas” following the rise and epic fall of a crook. All that’s missing are the victims, and the outrage.
DiCaprio is Jordan Belfort, an eager-beaver young broker-in-training who takes the mesmerizing patter from his drugs, sex and making-money mentor Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) to heart. The name of the game, Hanna purrs, is “moving the money from the client’s pocket to your pocket.”
A light goes off in idealistic Jordan’s head. Who cares if the client does well? It’s all about your commissions, your shady deals, getting rich because “money makes you a better person.”
A light goes off in the viewer’s head, too. Before anybody starts stamping DiCaprio’s name on the Oscar, here’s old Matthew to remind us that nobody has had a better year acting in the movies – nobody. If Mark Hanna had more than two scenes, McConaughey might have stolen the movie.
But this isn’t Oliver Stone’s preachy, good-man-falls-far opera “Wall Street.” This is about Jordan’s layoff during the financial crash of 1987 and his rebirth as a penny stocks-trading bottom feeder, the sort of smooth money-printing huckster who lures proteges and followers like a revival preacher. Donnie (Jonah Hill) is the first. Assorted other “guys from the neighborhood” follow.
That’s the genius of this. The savvier Wall Street pundits noticed how brokers, traders and derivatives specialists went from making a very good living in the early Reagan years to making obscene amounts of money by the end of the Reagan years. And these pundits asked “How did these goons get so smart?” And “How do they figure they’re worth that kind of money?”
“The Wolf of Wall Street” captures the delusional, undereducated ignoramuses with nothing but hunger who nag clients into buying stocks that might make them money, might lose money. But either way, these guys got paid.
DiCaprio brings a religious fervor to this performance. Where his Gatsby was shy, aloof and shady, Jordan Belfort is a combination of Oral Roberts and Joel Osteen, pep rallying his flock to his prosperity gospel.
“There is no nobility in poverty,” he thunders. “I want you to deal with your problems by getting RICH!”
Marriages founder and a mountain of cocaine goes up Jordan and his team’s noses. Hill, wearing shiny, fake teeth and that boyish hedonism that’s been his trademark, brings a crackling, improvisational feel to his scenes with DiCaprio, a blur of words and blow blasting from one to the other as they cannot believe how rich they’re getting and how they’re squandering all this money.
The otherworldly beauty Margot Robbie plays “The Duchess of Bay Ridge,” stunning but just as New York working class as any of them once she opens her “Guinea Gulch” (Italian-Brooklyn) mouth. Of course Jordan must have her, but she makes little impression beyond the lust that first inspires him. Kyle Chandler blandly plays the FBI agent who puts Jordan in his sights.
It’s a movie whose melodramatic flourishes – a storm at sea in which all Jordan and Donnie can do is cope with Quaaludes, a plane crash – are made no less melodramatic by the fact that they’re actually true.
Three hours might not seem excessive for a satiric indictment of Wall Street ethics. But for a comedy that glamorizes the bacchanalia of Belfort’s world – dwarf tossing, stripper-packed office parties, all manner of drugs, the pursuit of sexsploits further and further from conventional – it’s a bit much. There’s too much repetition, too many scenes left in to show off the high-rollers’ endless array of human failings and petty ambitions.
For such a manic movie, Scorsese never brings urgency to the proceedings. That’s a big reason this “Goodfellas” has no sense of tragedy or judgment to it. It amuses, but never makes us feel.
Our most moral crime film creator sits on the fence, observing and enjoying the mayhem, forcing us to make the “See where this got us?” leap. Because he, like the greedy grovelers his movie documents, was having too much fun to bother with that.
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