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Friday, December 27, 2013

The Wolf of Wall Street 2013 * * * Stars

The Wolf of Wall StreetDirector: Martin Scorsese
Year: 2013
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Kyle Chandler

The Wolf of Wall Street marks number five as the amount of collaborative stints between star Leonardo DiCaprio and famed director Martin Scorsese. In my opinion, it's not as Oscar worthy as their first tryst in Gangs of New York nor is it as intelligent and verbose as their 2nd actor/director marriage in 2004's The Aviator. No this is one outlandish, messy, but oddly entertaining picture that takes something like 2000's stock broker drama Boiler Room, and exceeds it profusely in scope and edginess. Granted, this movie equivalent of an illegal frat house party is in serious need of editing. And it's about as adult themed as any film as you could ever imagine. In fact, I found it odd that "Wolf" didn't garner an NC-17 rating. I'm thinking that the whole box office/finding an audience thing kinda came into play courtesy of Scorsese who at the helm, means that studio heads will likely bow down to his requests for a normal R rated, wide release.

Anyway, if The Wolf of Wall Street has any chance of wowing the Academy, it has to cater to the volcanic, ballsy performance of one Leonardo DiCaprio. As always, he puts so much emotion and fire into everything he does. His Jordan Belfort is a despicable, drugged out entrepreneur that is actually made to be likable and rallied upon. This is because of DiCaprio's effortless charisma and shattering intensity. Watch out Gordon Gekko, you've got some serious competition!

Taking place in I guess, the late 80's and early 90's (there are no title cards in this flick, a rare Scorsese holdover) and sort of resembling the legendary director's panoramic arc from his 1995 epic Casino, "Wolf" chronicles the life of one Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio). He's an up and coming stockbroker who with the intuition and oddball advice of colleague Mark Hanna (played by Matthew McConaughey who shows up for just two scenes and it's a shame he didn't stick around for the whole movie), decides to start his own firm in order to illegally rob clients by selling them "penny" stocks. He's helped by his goofy sidekick Donnie Azzof (played by a buck toothed Johah Hill). The two of them build an empire only to succumb to the long arm of the law in the form of a staunch FBI agent (Patrick Denham played by Kyle Chandler). Throughout the proceedings, Azzok, Belfort, and their 100+ employees dabble in drugs, sex, and ignored corruption. One word describes this exercise: bloated. These are Wall Street degenerates who don't want to think about tomorrow. They all hinge on Belfort who assures them that "money makes you smile!." Granted, the speeches DiCaprio's character gives in the war room are a tribute to his brutal nature as a hopped up thespian that is in complete control of his craft. He takes this role and confidently runs with it. I'd like to call his performance a full on sprint as opposed to an underplayed marathon. Next to The Aviator and 2006's Blood Diamond, this might be the best work he's ever done.

With the exception of gratuitous violence ("Wolf" has only two or three scenes parlaying this and it's mild at best), The Wolf of Wall Street still has a lot of its director's veritable trademarks. As usual, he concentrates on the unlikable, guilt ridden character who vies for the starstruck American dream. He also, as in Goodfellas and other films, depicts the rise and fall of said dream. DiCaprio plays Belfort as a sort of hyperactive version of Ray Liotta (Henry Hill). He does most of the narration and talking to the camera (like Liotta did toward the end of "Fellas"). Leo, using his hands regularly along with his off-the-wall facial expressions, is nudged by Scorsese's sledgehammer camera movement being similar to almost every film he's done. Marty throws in the usual aggression, fast editing, and whip around smarts with his keen eye for slack jaw imagery. However, he overdoes it completely on "Wolf" by throwing everything in it but the kitchen sink. He directs this flick as if it was the last cinematic squall that would ever be put into theaters. He's already won his Oscar so I don't think he cares what end of the year voters are focusing on. With all the orgies, coke snorting (oh and quaalude popping), profanity laden arguments, character vulgarity, and theft of human lives, the world's greatest director simply wears you out. It's obvious that Scorsese shows his dirty old man side here with his perverse, ostracized style of film making. Is it entertaining? Yes. Did I feel bad about laughing nervously during certain scenes? You betcha.

When it's all said and done though, The Wolf of Wall Street doesn't say a whole lot about stockbrokers and the fake art of their salesmanship. It's more about the characters who are unlikable, snarling jerks. The name of the game here in terms of its large cast, is excess and there is simply too much movie in this movie. "Wolf" is sprawling to the point of absurdity. Scenes are never ending with dialogue that takes the F word to stratospheric proportions (this is the most potty mouthed film of all time, trust me). The acting, while decent, has everyone following a thin script that from what I understand, was written from the memoirs of the real life Belfort (he must have been too wasted to remember what happened). Despite these flaws, I still liked this vehicle. It entertains you in a sort of giddy, unsafe way. It's ambitious, extravagant, train wreck bliss. Dare I say that I actually want to see it again. During the first half of The Wolf of Wall Street, Jonah Hill's Donnie says, "I love three things. I love my country, I love Jesus Christ, and I love making people money." Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio love making movies together. This one is good but not entirely great. And unfortunately it might be their Ritalin-starved lovechild instead of their advertised "critical darling." See it for DiCaprio. Be entertained. But be warned, this is one "wolf" with way too many teeth.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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