Movie review: Wild “Wolf of Wall Street” a winner

By Columbus Alive
From the December 26, 2013 edition

“The Wolf of Wall Street” opens with rowdy stockbrokers tossing midgets at a bullseye. That pretty much sets the tone for what may be Martin Scorsese’s wildest movie yet.

It’s another variation on Scorsese’s favorite kind of a story, the rise and fall. In this case, he and frequent collaborator Leonardo DiCaprio go on a full-out cinematic bender. “Wolf” is a three-hour coke-snorting, dick-swinging, flag-waving ode to greed.

DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort (upon whose memoirs the film is based), a wide-eyed 22-year-old Wall Street newbie who learns the ropes just before the 1987 “Black Monday” crash left him, like many brokers, out of a job.

Belfort (and his exquisite salesmanship) soon finds a new racket in trading penny stocks, unlisted stocks of dubious nature with a much bigger take for the brokers. Soon he’s running his own brokerage and almost making more money than he can spend (although the cocaine helps).

Scorsese rolls around in this orgy of excess in ways that are over-the-top and strangely appropriate for the subject matter. “Wolf” feels a lot like the greatest film of Scorsese’s middle period, “Goodfellas,” but he cuts the morality tale with an unexpected dose of comedy.

Case in point: The most insane scene of the year that is not from Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers” has to be the one involving Leo on some top-shelf Quaaludes. I won’t say any more. You’ll know which scene I’m talking about.

Leo is also at his most unhinged, depicting Jordan as a monstrous by-product of the American dream. His Jordan is a con-man on the highest level, both charming and psychotic. Of course, Leo has the chops to depict the inevitable fall from grace, too.

Jonah Hill (and his comically white fake teeth) brings even more levity as a disciple of Jordan. Did I tell you this movie is funny? It is.

On the downside, yes, three hours feels a bit indulgent — although the coke-fueled pace won’t make it feel that way. And, while there’s a not-so-subtle commentary on America throughout, it’s more pop than high art. Nothing wrong with that when you’ve got Martin Scorsese at the helm.

Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures