December 23, 2013
In the waning years of the last century at Stratton Oakmont, the Wall Street brokerage house run like a coked-up 24-hour bacchanal by Jordan Belfort, the customer wasn't king. The customer was merely a means to an end. Belfort and his minions ruled, and they couldn't spend, snort or swallow the riches reaped fast enough.
Belfort's various illegalities and near-death experiences were lovingly self-chronicled in his memoirs. Now director Martin Scorsese has made a three-hour picture about the man and his pleasure missions. Leonardo DiCaprio reteams with Scorsese for a fifth time, and late in "The Wolf of Wall Street" there's a sequence when Belfort and his friend and up-from-the-streets colleague, played by Jonah Hill, ingest fistfuls of Quaaludes and, feeling nothing, take a few more. This leads to a massive delayed reaction and a nearly incapacitating mess of lost motor function, slurred speech, seriously impaired driving and a steadily building comic set piece that nearly saves the movie.
There's something missing from "The Wolf of Wall Street," though. Scorsese's camera energizes all he can, in every way he can as a propulsive filmmaker. But around the 80-minute mark the bullet train of a protagonist begins to run in circles, however maniacally. The movie's benumbed by its own parade of bad behavior. Like some of Scorsese's other second-tier works — "Casino," "Bringing Out the Dead" — the gulf between virtuoso technical facility and impoverished material cannot be bridged. It's diverting, sort of, to see DiCaprio doing lines off a stripper's posterior, but after the 90th time it's like, enough already with heinous capitalistic extremes.
Adapting screenwriter Terence Winter intends Belfort's story to be an increasingly galling cautionary tale, but without the overt finger-wagging that would bring in the bring-down. Although DiCaprio is never less than engaged, I wonder if the comfort level between this actor and this director has begun to work against both artists. Perhaps it's simply that DiCaprio has already played a (very different) man of blinkered excess in a similarly exhausting picture this year, Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby." But no matter how many whirligig variations DiCaprio and company pull in "The Wolf of Wall Street," the film's relentlessness becomes monotonous.
In one scene the federal agent (Kyle Chandler) who smells a rat visits Belfort on his yacht — a yacht, as DiCaprio reminds him, that is "fit for a Bond villain." It's an interesting scene for a while, with the adversaries sniffing each other out, pushing each other's buttons. And then it goes on two minutes too long. This happens throughout "The Wolf of Wall Street," and those minutes add up.
"Wolf of Wall Street" -- 2 stars
MPAA rating: R (for sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language throughout, and for some violence)
Running time: 2:59
Opens: Dec. 25
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