The Wolf of Wall Street huffs and puffs and not much else
Warning: This article contains spoilers for The Wolf of Wall Street.
Director Martin Scorsese's latest film, The Wolf of Wall Street, based on a true story, depicts the rocket-ship rise and spectacular fall of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his time on Wall Street. Belfort is a nice Jewish boy from Queens who, like all young men in the 1980s, is eager to make his fortune trading stocks. What begins as honest ambition quickly spirals into insatiable lust for drugs, women, and the sexiest thing there is: money.
Belfort establishes the brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont to peddle worthless, high-commission penny stocks. He and his team simply cold call unwitting investors and convince them that they're getting in on the ground floor of a lucrative new company. Belfort is no Gordon Gekko, the smart, ruthless investing wizard created by Oliver Stone for his 1987 film Wall Street: He is just a common swindler.
Surrounding himself with like-minded hedonists and schemers, including his best friend Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), Belfort uses the firm to fuel his every desire. These schemers spend thousands of company dollars on fancy dinners, prostitutes, cocaine, their beloved Quaaludes, and just about everything else you could imagine. Nothing gold can stay, however, and eventually F.B.I. agent Partick Denham (Kyle Chandler) plucks Belfort from his yacht and dumps him in federal prison.
Scorsese delivers on his promise of pure, unadulterated excess that he made when he released the film's trailer in June. The problem is that it's all the film contains. The movie is as deep as Jay-Z's "Big Pimpin' " music video and merely skims the surface of what could be an interesting class-conscious tale of ethnically diverse outsiders trying to break into what the movie characterizes as a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant stronghold.
That's not to say that the movie is without merit. The film moves faster than a heart rate after a line of cocaine off a hooker's chest — a scene that occurs more than a few times — and Scorsese rarely lets a moment overstay its welcome. DiCaprio hasn't lit up the screen in a lead role like this since The Departed, and it's his performance that gives the movie most of its draw. Jonah Hill has finally found a role that perfectly blends his natural knack for humor with the kind of dramatic depth he's been trying to exhibit since Moneyball in 2011. Boardwalk Empire creator Terence Winter's script will have you laughing out loud — such as the scene when Belfort and Azoff fight in a kitchen while high on the strongest Quaaludes available — but blatantly chooses to ignore anything that isn't pure fun.
Disappointingly, The Wolf of Wall Street is nothing more than a glimpse at what life would be if one chose to ignore all questions of morality, mortality, and any other inhibition from indulging in every dark desire. Scorsese famously updated the tried-and-true gangster movie when he shot it full of style with his 1990 classic Goodfellas, and he had a similar opportunity here. But instead of an update to the tried-and-true Wall Street morality tale, we're left with another predictable and familiar story of corruption and greed. What a pity.