The wild ride known as The Wolf of Wall Street seems to be several movies at once.
The newest release from director Martin Scorsese takes three hours to tell the reportedly true story of a flamboyant, philandering, drug-addled con man. Like the character’s own rise and fall, however, Wolf is much more fun when climbing the heights than it is during that tricky descent into oblivion.
Anyone familiar with Scorsese’s 1990 Goodfellas will recognize most of the story arc of Wolf. As the surprisingly funny first half builds with blazing energy, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) serves as the guide and narrator, taking us from personal innocence into a dangerously enticing world filled with extravagance and exceptional excesses.
In defining and chronicling Belfort’s surrender to greed, sex, drugs and shady stock dealing, Scorsese delivers sequences of excess that go beyond the Fellini-esque and become virtually Caligula-esque. Belfort welcomes anything and anyone who will help him grow richer and or get higher.
Wolf grounds its story, with screenplay from Sopranos veteran Terence Winter based on a book from Belfort. Our narrator begins his career with another alcoholic, drug-addicted broker, Mark Hanna (hilariously played by Matthew McConaughey), almost just as the stock market crashes on Black Monday in 1987. After brief period of unemployment, Belfort finds himself at a Long Island “Boiler Room” operation pushing penny stocks.
But a quick success vaults him into his own firm as he surrounds himself with a group of equally unethical acolytes, including Jonah Hill and Jon Bernthal. Along the way, Belfort abandons one wife (Cristin Milioti) for another (Margot Robbie), while buying outrageous new homes and yachts and throwing over-the-top parties, all captured in garish detail by Scorsese.
Although filled with an impressive roster of supporting actors, Wolf really seems only to feature DiCaprio. He’s constantly on screen, screaming, ingesting drugs, romancing a woman, conning someone on the phone — and hitting the highs and lows that would appeal to any actor.
But after a while, even DiCaprio’s magic can’t bring life to a rambling second act. It’s as though Scorsese and his longtime editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, got tired of their project.
The Wolf of Wall Street
Rated R, 180 minutes. Opened Wednesday.