3 stars (out of 4)
Imagine walking into a blow-the-roof-off party. Naked ladies galore. Pulsating music. Pills popped like Tic Tacs. A game involving a dwarf and a bull’s-eye.
Crazy fun for a while, right? (Rhetorical question). But then you’re stuck there with a bunch of jerks. For three hours.
Welcome to Martin Scorsese’s exhilarating — and exhaustive — ode to Wall Street debauchery. Your charismatic, game-for-anything host: Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio). In the late ‘80s, he’s just another married, clean-cut stockbroker with ambition to spare. On the first day of the job, he watches his supervisor (Matthew McConaughey, in a winking cameo appearance) nonchalantly snort cocaine and polish off martinis during lunch at a four-star restaurant. Already, Jordan has dipped his toe in an ocean that’s swimming with sharks.
After the 1987 stock market crash, Jordan’s drive intensifies to the point where you can smell it on him. All he needs is a little luck and opportunity. Then he gets wise to an illegal trading loophole. (Two words: Penny stocks). Boom. He quickly gathers his awestruck, schlubby neighbor (a very well cast Jonah Hill) and fellow slimy pals and launches a firm.
At the height of his success in the ‘90s, Jordan pulls in $49 million a year and accessorizes his Armani suits with a private plane, mansions and a yacht. He ditches the missus for a naughty, greedy trophy wife, who he nicknames “the duchess” (Margot Robbie). This gold-plated excess is splashed around the screen with unabashed glee. Crime pays, everybody! The message is intoxicating. Don’t bother ruminating on the fine details behind the swindling, either. As Jordan brazenly admits in one of his many asides to the camera, “All you care about is whether we made a sh--load of money!” (The account is based on his real-life memoir, by the way).
Yet even the most prying eyes might glaze over by the sheer repetitiveness of all this NC-17-rated behavior. The first time Jordan spazzes out on his beloved Quaaludes (and does a play-by-play via voiceover!) is dizzying. The second time is amusing. The fourth time is. . . . unnecessary. Still, it can never be said that DiCaprio doesn’t throw himself into his roles. Here, the actor gets to hilariously flex his rarely used physical-comedy muscles when he slithers down a driveway and collapses into his convertible. He’s also deliciously charming while wooing a no-nonsense FBI agent (Kyle Chandler) hot on his tail.
The 24/7 raunchiness comes at the expense of a fleshed-out plot. Crucial questions are glossed over, such as Jordan's newfound commitment to sobriety and how he gets out of a slippery showdown with Chandler. Jordan’s dad (Rob Reiner) is underdeveloped, while his point person with the SEC (Jon Favreau) disappears. This is not a suggestion to cut the image of Jordan pouring hot wax on a babe’s back. But must his butler throw a wild party too?
More problematic, none of these sleaze-balls is the least bit remorseful. Jordan never acknowledges his victims or, for that matter, cares about anyone but himself. (The reckless way he treats his young daughter toward the end of the film is especially chilling). He merely wants to sell his lies and his lifestyle. And just when it seems like Jordan might get his comeuppance, he’s allowed to play tennis in his country club of a prison. Ultimately, the wolf devours us all.