The Wolf of Wall Street

The swindling, swollen-headed stockbroker Jordan Belfort may have been a hard-sell shaman, but in one respect he simply got lucky: His memoir came to the attention of Martin Scorsese. Throughout The Wolf of Wall Street, while Leonardo DiCaprio lets loose portraying Belfort’s plutocratic debauchery, Scorsese looks on with kid-in-candy-store glee. There is much evidence of directorial affinity here, possibly because the candy is largely pharmaceutical. Being so frenzied and so often funny as hell, the film harkens back to Scorsese’s most celebrated work, Goodfellas in particular, but for its way of building up DiCaprio as a resourceful scoundrel it also seems like a brazen improvement on Spielberg’s much more timid Catch Me If You Can. That film wouldn’t have known what to do with heaving hysterical mobs having orgies of sex or selling on the trading floor; this one almost doesn’t know what to do without them. Glorification may not be an intention but may be a consequence, as the mania of DiCaprio’s performance — which seems like his best ever or at least his hugest, even if palpable vulnerability is its secret ingredient — becomes mesmerizing. Also, Jonah Hill figures prominently as his brash, bleach-toothed sidekick. As for the script, breathlessly adapted by Boardwalk Empire originator Terence Winter, it should be said that neither amplification nor reiteration is the same as growth, and the dramatic shape here seems mostly like a long series of climaxes. One may therefore argue that The Wolf of Wall Street doesn’t satisfactorily conclude so much as just stop — but that argument may come from a place of not wanting it to.