City Paper grade: A-
Three hours long without an ounce of fat, The Wolf of Wall Street is an utterly controlled monument to self-indulgence. As Jordan Belfort, a small-time broker who makes several fortunes selling penny stocks to increasingly well-monied chumps, Leonardo DiCaprio finally pays off the unrealized potential of his long collaboration with Martin Scorsese; he’s the self-made man as permanent huckster, taking the salesman’s always-be-closing maxim to unparalleled lengths. DiCaprio’s recent roles as Jay Gatsby and Django Unchained’s slaveowner indicate that the actor, who’d never quite settled into grown-up roles, has found his wheelhouse in playing smooth-talking, morally crippled men.
Working from the real Belfort’s autobiography, screenwriter Terence Winter structures Wolf as a series of swindles and bacchanals which grow redundant and draining by design; Jordan’s the life of the party, but he’s also the one waking up in a puddle of fluid the morning after. He’s surrounded by men, including Jonah Hill as a composite second-in-command, who’ll do anything for him as long as the money keeps coming — and it does. There are women in this world — a few wives and a lot of prostitutes, frequently stripped of clothing and body hair, and a few brokers who keep up with the two guys — but it’s essentially a dick-measuring contest that never stops. When the government sends him a subpoena, Jordan whips his out and pisses on it.
Wolf runs the risk of making financial corruption seem attractive, but that’s because it is — at least to those of sufficient amorality, willing to pay the fines and do their brief terms and emerge from prison with barely a crease in their bespoke dress shirts. It won’t turn people off financial crime any more than any cautionary tale can stop people from trying drugs, but it’s a frightening and clear-eyed look at why so many indulge, and why they get to keep on indulging.
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