David O. Russell's latest film “American Hustle,” about con artists in the 1970s, clearly owes a great deal to Martin Scorsese’s “GoodFellas” and “Casino.” Now comes the genuine article, “The Wolf of Wall Street” by Scorsese himself, which, ironically, has shades of the same two films.
In his fifth time out with Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Jordan Belfort, a Wall Street trader whose first day on the job happens to be Oct. 19, 1987 – Black Monday, one of the biggest market crashes in history. He accepts a job trading penny stocks – shares of small, semi-worthless companies, for huge commissions.
Expanding on this philosophy, he opens his own Wall Street firm, a largely illegal operation at which he makes huge piles of cash so fast it's intoxicating.
He also has an addiction problem – alcohol, prostitutes and drugs of all types, especially quaaludes.
Jonah Hill co-stars as his right-hand man, Donnie Azoff, who enjoys the ride just as much. Margot Robbie plays the stunningly beautiful Naomi Lapaglia, who captures Jordan's eye, if not his heart.
Among the many other actors who turn up, Matthew McConaughey is especially memorable as one of Jordan’s mentors.
The movie (based on the memoir of the real Belfort, who became a multi-millionaire in his 20s and went to prison for fraud and money-laundering) is most impressive for its reckless, monstrous motion, fueled by energy exciting and rotten, similar to the incredible, jittery helicopter sequence in the climax of “GoodFellas.”
Although themes and techniques are similar to his earlier films, “The Wolf of Wall Street” is the flat-out, below-the-belt funniest thing Scorsese has done.
Every few minutes, there’s a scene that's so shocking and high-spirited – for example, when Jordan attempts to drive his Lamborghini after a powerful quaalude has kicked in – that laughter can be the only response.
Scorsese's longtime editor, triple Oscar-winner Thelma Schoonmaker, keeps up this exhausting pace for an impossible 179 minutes.
While “American Hustle” aims mostly for fun, “The Wolf of Wall Street” reveals an important theme toward the end, after Jordan has become a motivational speaker. Scorsese lingers on a shot of the faces in his audience – of average people, and noone stands out.
But they're all missing something, and they seem to think Jordan has the key to happiness. Yet happiness isn’t what Scorsese illustrates so well in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” In exploring how people need to have their desires fulfilled, the film echoes the old saying, “Be careful what you wish for.”
The Wolf of Wall Street
Three and a half stars
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler
Written by Terence Winter
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Running time 2 hours, 59 minutes