Reviews for the Easily Distracted:
The Wolf of Wall Street

Title: The Wolf of Wall Street

So How Many Rolling Stones Songs Does Scorsese Use? Amazingly, in a soundtrack of 30-odd songs, Mick and Keith and the boys don't make an appearance.

Rating Using Random Objects Related To The Film: Three-and-a-half rogue waves out of five.


Brief Plot Synopsis: Emotionally immature stockbroker becomes fabulously wealthy, turns into complete sociopath to boot.

Tagline: There isn't an official one, but just picture that poster from the 80s that said "Poverty Sucks."

Better Tagline: "No really, poverty sucks."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Jordan Belfort (Leonardo Di Caprio) has the bad luck of becoming an officially licensed stockbroker right before the 1987 "Black Monday" stock market crash. Unqualified (and unwilling) to do anything else, he joins a fleabag Long Island firm selling worthless penny stocks and, in a matter of years, takes the company to Wall Street, earning millions for him and his pals, while his shady practices start raising flags with the FBI.

"Critical" Analysis: The Wolf of Wall Street is a long movie: three hours. And once the credits rolled I found myself thinking how at least a third of it felt like overindulgence. In terms of pure chemical and hedonistic excess, Belfort and his cronies could've given Mötley Crüe a run for their money, spending the bulk of the 1990s snorting coke, popping Quaaludes, and fornicating with a wide variety of prostitutes (Belfort even helpfully categorizes them for us). And it feels like we're witnesses to the bulk of it.

Chronicling the downfall of the formerly prosperous is something Martin Scorsese does well (Goodfellas, Casino), and it's something we all enjoy, especially then the person in question isn't exactly a moral paragon, a la Belfort, or Henry Hill. The Wolf of Wall Street is being marketed as a comedy, and -- to paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson -- there is nothing in the world more hilarious than a man in the depths of a 'lude overdose, and so we shake our heads and laugh as Di Caprio attempts to navigate a short staircase without use of his limbs.

Di Caprio is outstanding as Belfort, mostly because I suspect (unlike the actual Belfort) he can effortlessly make us sympathize with even the most repulsive character. Even so, we don't really feel anything for the man until he hits rock bottom, which he had to do, otherwise they wouldn't have made a movie about him.

But I can't help wondering if Scorsese didn't go over the top on purpose. Like Ray Liotta's Hill in Goodfellas, Belfort narrates his life's ups and downs, gleefully pointing out how much better off he is than just about any other human being on the planet even as he acknowledges the insanity of it all. Maybe showing us scene after scene after scene of coke being snorted off cleavage and drunken dwarf tossing competitions is the only way to drive home how off the rails the system has gotten.

The sole voice of reason is FBI Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler), initially mocked by Belfort for riding the subway to work and "sweating his balls off in a cheap suit." Chandler is alternately disarming (when playing along with Belfort's attempts to sway him) and merciless (when the hammer finally comes down). But the film's final scenes, which I won't spoil but you can guess if you know anything about how the wealthy are treated in this country, appear to bring out Scorsese's true message: most of us are completely fucked, and that's probably never going to change.

Or maybe I'm giving him too much credit. I tend to do that when you make a movie I love as much as Goodfellas.

There's some revisionist history as well. Belfort claims that his practices - while not entirely above board - weren't the worst crimes being committed, decrying those who deal in collateralized debt obligations and internet stocks. While technically correct, it's a little too one the nose, smacking of Newsroom style hindsight.

That said, The Wolf of Wall Street is pretty damn solid. Di Caprio's performance anchors a great cast (Matthew McConaughey nails it again, and I finally liked Jonah Hill in something). And I'll take my financial industry critiques -- mild as they might be -- where I can get them.

The Wolf of Wall Street is in theaters today. I probably don't have to tell you it's not your traditional Christmas movie.

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