Saturday, August 23, 2014
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'Wolf of Wall Street': Fun, depressingly familiar

This film image released by Paramount Pictures shows  Jonah Hill, left, and Leonardo DiCaprio in a scene from "The Wolf of Wall Street." (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures and Red Granite Pictures, Mary Cybulski)
This film image released by Paramount Pictures shows Jonah Hill, left, and Leonardo DiCaprio in a scene from "The Wolf of Wall Street." (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures and Red Granite Pictures, Mary Cybulski) AP
This film image released by Paramount Pictures shows  Jonah Hill, left, and Leonardo DiCaprio in a scene from "The Wolf of Wall Street." (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures and Red Granite Pictures, Mary Cybulski) Gallery: 'Wolf of Wall Street': Fun, depressingly familiar

Been there, done that.

As thrilling a filmmaker as Martin Scorsese continues to be, and as wild a performance as Leonardo DiCaprio dishes up as its morally bankrupt master of the universe, The Wolf of Wall Street seems almost entirely unnecessary. A story of stockbroker rapacity in the anything-goes '90s? Cocaine and hookers? Fast cars and fancy yachts? Trophy wives and pesky feds?

For three hours.

Really?

Adapted from the best-selling memoir by Jordan Belfort, the Bronx-born trader whose "pump-and-dump" schemes and penny-stock frauds made him millions - leaving duped investors with busted bank accounts - The Wolf of Wall Street tracks the rise and fall of its merrily debauched antihero, from his brief stint at an old-money brokerage house to his drug-fueled glory days as the CEO of an epic con.

Yes, there's a prison sentence at the end of the road. But Scorsese and his screenwriter, Terence Winter, pretty much shrug that off for what it was: 22 months in a country club ringed by barbed wire.

Moral of the story (did we say the movie was three hours long?): Crime pays. As long as you believe in yourself, and convince other people likewise, it doesn't matter how many rules are broken, dreams smashed, lives destroyed.

Pass the Quaaludes, why dontcha?

So, even though it's kind of fun watching DiCaprio go kablooey, shimmying around in his $2,000 suits and bellowing boiler-room battle cries (and that knee-walking exit from the country club, a surreal DUI episode - amazing!), it's also depressingly predictable.

Joining Scorsese's go-to star (this is the director and DiCaprio's fifth collaboration) are Jonah Hill, playing a fictionalized, wacko version of Belfort's right-hand man; Matthew McConaughey as a Wall Streeter who mentored a young, green Belfort (key advice: masturbate a lot); Rob Reiner as Belfort's proud pop; and Margot Robbie as the blond bombshell with the Brooklyn accent whom Belfort jettisons his first wife for.

The whole bunch of them are good. So's the music, and the cinematography. A-list all the way, baby.

The Wolf of Wall Street is an orgiastic love song to rampant excess. Maybe it's ironic - it's certainly hallucinogenic - but it feels unhealthily worshipful at times, too. That last shot of the poor mug of an FBI guy, played by Kyle Chandler, on his grim subway commute?

He's the sap in this story, he's the sucker. There's no nobility there and little in the way of upward mobility, either.

Is The Wolf of Wall Street really that obvious? I'm afraid so.

 


MOVIE REVIEW

The Wolf of Wall Street

**1/2 (Out of four stars)

Directed by Martin Scorsese. With Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey, Jonah Hill, and Margot Robbie. Distributed by Universal Pictures.

Running time: 3 hours.

Parent's guide: R (sex, nudity, profanity, drugs, violence, adult themes).

Playing at: Opens Wednesday at area theaters.


srea@phillynews.com

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@Steven_Rea

 

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Steven Rea Inquirer Movie Columnist and Critic
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