The Wolf of Wall Street is a rag to riches to rags story that displays the excess that success breeds. Leonardo DiCaprio plays real-life swindler and high liver Jordan Belfort whose 1987 memoir described his excesses with drugs and successes with swindling people, his eventual reckoning and recreation.
Director Martin Scorsese generates the extended version, nearly three hours of drugs, sex and lies that are occasionally videotaped. It all starts repeating and blending together after the first ninety minutes with an over the top relish that resembles a Quentin Tarantino film at his most scabrous and profanely funny height before the pastiche overtakes the reality. The Wolf of Wall Street is Goodfellas, the financial street version, with drugs and sex subbing for guns and violence.
DiCaprio earlier this year played Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby another story of a man who blew thru a fortune. Both are poseurs with Gatsby striving for elegance and love while Belfort loves excess and loads of cash. There is no tragedy because the protagonist has no regrets. In reality Belfort was not the whale in a bathtub Wolf of Wall Street makes him seen but a small fish in a bigger pond. The only one dumb enough to get caught.
DiCaprio is able to give one of his best performances because his character is all shill and no shade. He plays variations on a theme of drug abuse, decadent excess and con artistry, never realizing nor wanting to grow beyond male adolescent desires. Jonah Hill, ablaze in a set of porcelain white choppers, provides comic support, playing the same character from Superbad a few years on. The acting is easy when the characters are nulls. Oscar glory is only for those who put in the hard work.
Scorsese layers the whole charade with a bullying tone. The story is told through the point of view of Balfort, who treats the viewer as both a client and a chump, delivering the voice over as if it is an aggressive sales call. Everything is up there, with nothing left to the imagination. And once the audience sees the script, the sets, all the hustle and play, it is easy to hang up the phone when the closing pitch comes. Scorsese breaks his own on screen rule of closing the deal: He speaks first.
Scorsese may be at the top of his game here, but when the playbook has only one good move done over and over again, the opponent is going to eventually find a way to stop it and get the win. The Wolf of Wall Street gets a B from me.