Leonardo DiCaprio adds humor to 'The Wolf of Wall Street.' (Mary Cybulski / Paramount Pictures)
For film, this was a year to study American excess. So it’s fitting that the year end with the thoroughly excessive “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
From the entitled party girls of “Spring Breakers” to the mansions of “The Great Gatsby,” from the huckster’s wife in “Blue Jasmine” to the ambitious cons and cops of “American Hustle,” from the celebrity robbers of “The Bling Ring” to the tragically deluded Somali pirates in “Captain Phillips,” it’s all been about easy money, easy fame, the big party, morality be damned.
Now director Martin Scorsese steps into the ring with “Wolf.” The only problem is “The Wolf of Wall Street” isn’t simply about excess, it is excess.
Taken on its own merits, every scene in this film is probably fine, and a few are downright brilliant. But party scenes tend to lose their impact around the tenth line of coke being snorted off a naked woman. And inspirational addresses to happily corrupt employees get repetitive quickly as well. “The Wolf of Wall Street” runs three full hours. It should run two.
After all, not that much really goes on. It’s your basic tale of a rise to absurd and untenable heights which ends in a mighty crash. It’s outrageous, of course, but any real sense of outrage gets diluted by the film’s sheer bulk.
Luckily for both the film and the audience, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill give wildly funny performances that should help keep eyes open. DiCaprio has a scene where he’s so wasted he literally has to drag himself to his car, and it’s the sort of bald physical comedy only a great actor could pull off. Who knew he had it in him?
Leo plays the real-life Jordan Belfort, a young stockbroker who enters the business just as it’s about to tank (but not before his boss, Matthew McConaughey, can give him a hilarious pep talk). Jordan ends up looking for a job again, then starts over selling worthless penny stocks by phone, bilking unsuspecting citizens.
One day in a diner an unlikely-looking fellow named Donnie Azoff (Hill) approaches and asks him how he afford such an expensive car. Jordan explains and Donnie becomes his disciple. Within a short time they have an office on Wall Street, they’re hauling in millions in ways legal and illegal, and the big ’90s party is on.
Of course, with great power comes great delusion. Jordan knows a federal agent (Kyle Chandler) has his eye on the operation, and after a bribery attempt on his yacht fails, the target on his back grows. But even when he knows he’s busted, and has cut a deal that lets him escape with his freedom and some money, he decides to party on.
And party on. And party on. And party on.
The film shows no sympathy for the people Belfort bilked out of millions, nor for the employees who went down with Belfort’s ship. In fact, the film comes off as more celebration than condemnation of his exploits. You don’t expect a Martin Scorsese film to come with a simplistic moral message, but you do expect some sense of penance or depth of understanding.
But then maybe that’s the point: At the highest level, it really is about getting your own, forget those down below. If so, that could have easily come across in two hours, it didn’t need three.
'The Wolf of Wall Street'
Rated R for sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language throughout, and for some violence
Running time: 180 minutes