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Review: Pomp, amoral 'Wolf of Wall Street' is rich

December 23rd, 2013 4:19 pm by JESSICA HERNDON, AP Film Writer

Review: Pomp, amoral 'Wolf of Wall Street' is rich

This film image released by Paramount Pictures shows Jonah Hill, left, and Leonardo DiCaprio in a scene from "The Wolf of Wall Street." (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures and Red Granite Pictures, Mary Cybulski)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Digging into deep-pocket
gluttony, Martin Scorsese's dark comedy "The Wolf of Wall Street"
highlights a world rich in drugs, fast cars and private jets. The American
dream is amplified, yet those indulging in it are never satisfied.

In the film's opening segment, trading tycoon
Jordan Belfort, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, declares, "Money is the best
drug. It makes you a better person." This was the motto fueling a host of
hustling stockbrokers in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and it sets the tone
for Scorsese's commentary on the extravagance of our twisted financial culture.

As we've seen in his films
"Goodfellas" and "Casino," Scorsese is keen on illuminating
power struggles among a brutal backdrop. But in "Wolf," swindling is
the central vice, while violence is pale.

Adapted by Terrence Winter ("The
Sopranos"), "Wolf" is based on a memoir by the real Jordan
Belfort, who became a multi-millionaire at 26 and served 22 months in prison
for securities fraud and money-laundering before becoming a best-selling author
and motivational speaker.

As Jordan, DiCaprio, snorts cocaine off
hookers, receives oral sex while speeding in his Miami Vice-esq Ferrari and
nearly crashes his helicopter. His excessive antics carry over into his office,
where brokers indulge in trysts with prostitutes and pop pills daily.

In a flashback, we discover Jordan's road to
being a kingpin started in 1987 when he was a broker-in-training under the
ardent Mark Hanna (played by Matthew McConaughey, who has never been funnier).
David takes Jordan under his wing and advises him to devour blow to survive in
the fast-paced trading industry. But when the market crashes on Black Monday,
Jordan is sent back to his humble beginnings in Long Island, where he finds a
job at a local penny stocks firm and quickly makes a killing earning 50 percent

Still living in a mediocre apartment, Jordan's
flashy car catches the attention of his neighbor Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), who
must learn the secret to his success. Soon Jordan, with Donnie as his No. 2,
goes into business for himself, starting the firm Stratton Oakmont. Pulling
together a hilarious crew of goons and underachievers, Jordan trains them to
become successful brokers.

But our hero is hard to root for. He's a
master manipulator who harbors only a slight glint of humility, as he never
leaves his accomplices behind. But he is quick to put his own needs before
others, which is made clear when he uses the British aunt (Joanna Lumley of
"Absolutely Fabulous" fame) of his trophy wife, Naomi (scene-stealing
Australian newcomer Margot Robbie), to set up an offshore account and
jeopardizes the safety of his adolescent daughter in an especially cringing

However, none of his doings are ever severely
punished. After a crackdown led by FBI agent Patrick Denham (an excellently
placid Kyle Chandler), Jordan strikes a deal with the feds requiring him to
snitch on his associates in order to reduce his sentence. But DiCaprio, with
his occasional first-person narration, is exceptionally charismatic in his
fifth Scorsese collaboration. And though the actor's skillset is usually best
suited for campy roles, he strikes an ideal balance in "Wolf," as he
seamlessly shifts between wild and collected.

At nearly three hours, Scorsese's manic
masterpiece is a surplus of extravagance. But the extra minutes give way for
the film's funniest sequence: Jordan and Donnie crawl on the floor attempting
to fight despite their impaired speech and motor skills due to a delayed
reaction to a batch of old Quaaludes. The heavy humor finds the endlessly
hilarious Hill securing his place in Hollywood and sees DiCaprio reaching new
comedic heights.

"The Wolf of Wall Street," a
Paramount Pictures release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of
America for "sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use
and language throughout, and for some violence." Running time: 179
minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.

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