By JAMES DAWSON
Front Row Features Film Critic
Director Martin Scorsese’s manic, hilarious, deliciously depraved and unexpectedly epic “The Wolf of Wall Street” is so much wild and crazy wall-to-wall fun that it’s by far the most enjoyable movie I’ve seen all year. Its three insanely entertaining hours fly by, proving that sometimes nothing succeeds like excess.
Leonardo DiCaprio delivers what may be the best performance of his career as the hyperactive, criminally clever and supremely self-centered Jordan Belfort, a stock trader who rises from middle-class mediocrity to master-of-the-universe millions from the end of the ’80s and into the naughty 1990s. The movie marks DiCaprio’s fifth collaboration with Scorsese, after “Gangs of New York,” “The Aviator,” “The Departed” and “Shutter Island.” (Robert De Niro still has him beat with a score of eight, if anyone’s counting.) The director also is at the top of his game, giving the film so much exciting non-stop energy it’s almost exhausting.
Although based on the real-life Belfort’s autobiography, there’s probably as much imaginatively mendacious hokum onscreen as there was in Belfort’s seductively misleading sales pitches to gullible investors. His firm wasn’t even on Wall Street (try Long Island), his English model wife Nadine has been converted into Naomi from Queens, and an extended scene about the unfortunate effects of ingesting far too many Quaaludes and then getting Popeye-spinach-strong from cocaine is so slapstick silly it’s probably at least slightly exaggerated.
Even the biggest sticklers for honesty are unlikely to mind being seduced by any dramatic deceptions here, however. In this movie, being taken for a ride is the whole point.
Incredibly, most of the movie’s most outrageous scenes (including a midget-throwing contest, an employee having her head shaved for money to get a boob job, and a spectacular dark-and-stormy night yacht disaster) actually happened, if Belfort’s book is to be believed. He also really used his wife’s proper English auntie (Joanna Lumley) to help him smuggle millions into a Swiss bank account, drove through a garage door in an attempt to abduct his own daughter and was so drug-addled on an international flight that he was arrested when the jet landed. What a guy!
Screenwriter Terence Winter (a former Merrill Lynch employee who wrote many episodes of “The Sopranos,” created TV’s “Boardwalk Empire” and scripted the features “Get Rich or Die Tryin'” and “Brooklyn Rules”) has crafted a cinematic con-man classic that makes financial felonies, flagrant philandering and pharmaceutical-fueled fiascos falling-down funny. Which reminds me, there also are such frequent utterings of the “F” word, as well as so much other frantic profanity and a few cases of full-frontal nudity, that the movie definitely earns its “R” rating.
There’s not a weak link in the excellent supporting cast. Jonah Hill shines as second-in-command Donnie Azoff, a cousin-marrying clown who gets hired after introducing Belfort to the joy of smoking crack. Margot Robbie is Belfort’s drop-dead gorgeous but no dummy trophy wife Naomi, and Kyle Chandler is a smilingly persevering FBI agent who seems both amused by and contemptuous of Belfort’s shamelessly conspicuous consumption.
The wantonly wicked and wildly spending ways of the movie’s one-percenters still seem so relevant that the movie should serve as a lesson to anyone without connections or a crystal ball who is even thinking of investing in the stock market. As an ad for Belfort’s corrupt never-give-a-sucker-a-break company proclaims, “Stratton Oakmont is America,” a proclamation that sounds as brazenly true today as ever.