Martin Scorsese scores again with The Wolf of Wall Street

by Mark Burger

The fifth screen collaboration between Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio pays big dividends with The Wolf of Wall Street, a flashy factbased saga adapted from Jordan Belfort’s best-selling memoir by Terrence Winter in brash, pull-nopunches style.

This epic film traces Belfort’s spectacular rise and equally spectacular fall as one of Wall Street’s superstar stockbrokers, eventually undone by a life of glorious, wretched excess. As played with consummate charisma by DiCaprio in yet another sparkling performance, Belfort is a user, a doer and a gogetter. There’s money for the taking, and it’s all funny money. And with that money comes the potent but lethal combination of sex and drugs, both of which he dabbles in with unchecked abandon.

Belfort is the center of this universe, its uncontested master — and DiCaprio’s still-boyish, almost angelic countenance remains devilishly appealing even when Belfort’s being a very bad boy. He’s not so much addicted to sex, drugs and money as he is in his ability to get those things at will, and to share them with his friends.

As another of Scorsese’s morality plays, The Wolf of Wall Street revels and wallows in Belfort’s glorious debauchery (genteel viewers are hereby forewarned), yet it’s populated by colorful characters, among them Belfort’s right-hand man Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill in a brilliantly outrageous turn) and Belfort’s blustery father Max (Rob Reiner). The only stodgy character, and it’s likely intentional given the garish surroundings and cheerful amorality, is Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler), the plodding FBI agent who dogs Belfort’s trail. He doesn’t see a Wolf; he smells a rat.

Matthew McConaughey, still very lean from Dallas Buyers’ Club, has a terrific extended cameo appearance as an early Wall Street mentor, and a persuasive cast includes Jean Dujardin, Joanna Lumley, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, PJ Byrne, filmmaker Spike Jonze and luscious Margot Robbie as Belfort’s trophy wife, although the scenes of domestic discord between Belfort and both his wives (Christin Milioti being his first) aren’t the film’s strongest.

Running a full three hours, Scorsese keeps the energy level high throughout, although a few of Belfort’s pep talks become repetitious and there’s a slight impatience for his inevitable fall from grace.

Nevertheless, these minor points aide, Martin Scorsese has done it again. One of the great filmmakers has made another great film.