The Wolf of Wall Street
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By Don Gibble  January 3, 2014 12:00 am

Martin Scorsese’s comic, operatically-scaled film, “The Wolf of Wall Street,” is often madly entertaining due to its live-wire energy, exuberant performances and the irresistible appeal of watching naughty boys doing very naughty things.

Although never the household name he’ll now become with a big movie named about him, Jordan Belfort was nonetheless emblematic of the unrestrained financial shenanigans of the final years of the American century, when the idea of any consequences for lid-off monetary opportunities seemed unthinkable. A working-class New York kid, Belfort enthusiastically embraced the cutthroat Wall Street ethos in his early 20s and eventually formed a respectable-sounding company, Stratton Oakmont, featuring a boiler room ethos among employees that was thoroughly drilled in their leader’s take-no-prisoners sales approach.

Indicted in 1998 for securities fraud and money laundering, Belfort got off easy by ratting out many associates to the FBI and served but a brief sentence in a country club-like prison facility where his bunkmate was Tommy Chong. 

The format of Terence Winter’s script closely resembles those of two major Scorsese films about underworld figures, “Goodfellas” and “Casino”. Effectively setting both the iniquitous attitude and the adrenalized acting style that will predominate is Matthew McConaughey, who, in his one big scene as a successful drug-drink-and-sex-addled broker, tutors the 22-year-old Jordan (Leonardo DiCaprio) at a very funny lunch on what it takes to become a whiz in the money business.

Jordan has just gotten a taste of Wall Street life when Black Monday hits in October, 1987, sending him back to square one. Married and desperate for any income, he sets up a few desks in a Long Island garage, slaps the “classy” name of Stratton Oakmont on it and instructs a few young guys in the high-pressure art of selling penny stocks to suckers over the phone. It’s the start of something very, very big.

From the outset, the parties and celebrations are totally debauched; throughout, Scorsese pushes to the outer limits of the “R” rating in showing drug excess perhaps outdone only by “Scarface” and rampant sex, including in the workplace. Even when the firm grows to a thousand employees, the office filled with white-shirt-and-black-tied men more often resembles a mosh pit more than a place of business. Jordan’s ferocious inspirational speeches to his troops are among the film’s highlights and the boss gets his greatest satisfaction from seeing the men go ape with abandon at the prospect of their unethical practices reaping ever-escalating profits. Greed is all-pervasive and is held as life’s greatest virtue.

Even after he’s indicted in 1998 and is forced to give a farewell speech to his disbelieving staff, Jordan has at least one more surprise up his sleeve, which extends the film right up to the three-hour mark. This is undoubtedly DiCaprio’s largest and best screen performance, one in which he lets loose as he never has before. Production values are top of the line across the board.

You need to see this in the theaters, not at home on dvd.


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