Watch ‘Wolf’ stalk Main St. prey, be careful who you bring

by Varun Bhuchar | 1/5/14 7:13pm

I counted 15 people walking out mid-screening from “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013). Included in that group were some older people, a couple on a date and an enterprising gentleman who took his children to see the film in lieu of “Frozen” (2013) or “A Madea Christmas” (2013). While I applaud him for introducing his children to the works of director Martin Scorsese, “The Wolf of Wall Street” is a balls-to-the-wall exercise in extravagance and debauchery that would make Caligula blush.

Based on Jordan Belfort’s eponymous memoir, “The Wolf of Wall Street” follows Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) from his bright-eyed arrival on Wall Street to his downfall as a wealthy, drug-addicted libertine. At a butt-numbing 179 minutes, the film is both an epic and intimate portrait that exhausts the audience to the point of physical and emotional depletion.

This is partly due to the film’s “access point,” the character with whom the audience is meant to identify. The viewer is sucked into Belfort’s crazy life and starts to see the world through his twisted moral viewpoint. DiCaprio portrays Belfort as the life of the party — irresistibly charming, the guy could sell snow to a polar bear.

Yet Belfort is ruthless in pursuit of his version of the American Dream, with no size constraints on his house, bank account or hubris. His wife is a veritable goddess, and his cocaine habit makes Tony Montana’s look restrained. Belfort even breaks the fourth wall to show his disdain for society’s rules. When the film does pivot away from Belfort’s point of view, it’s jarring to go back to a “normal” life. The sinful one seems so much more...fun.

In a testament to Scorsese’s versatility, “The Wolf of Wall Street” is a portrait of a man like his “The Aviator” (2004), but this film manages to be pretty damn funny. The comedy hinges on its absurdity; the laughter is uncomfortable, but it’s the only natural reaction to observing these amoral sociopaths.

After a while, somewhere around the fourth cocaine-fueled orgy, I started to question the film’s point. I understood that Belfort’s life was hollow and superficial, but why did it have to be hammered again and again and again and again? Scorsese is not a director known for his lack of nuance, but he and Thelma Schoonmaker, his longtime editor, seem to make sure that even the most thick-headed audience member understands what’s happening. The resulting film runs too long, a fitting characteristic for a film dedicated to excess and all of its subtleties. Some scenes play out like the “Saturday Night Live” skits that follow the second musical performance, meandering until they reach the punch line.

But the film’s length cannot detract from the power of its visual viciousness and performances. There were early reports that the film would receive an NC-17 rating, and although “The Wolf of Wall Street” is rated R, I wouldn’t question anyone who mistakes it for a porno. The storyline manages to feature breasts and bodily fluids that fly in the remnants of cocaine dust clouds.

The real winner in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” however, is Jonah Hill, who plays Belfort’s social-climbing sidekick, Donnie. I marveled at a man who has moved so far past the juvenile roles that put him on the map. Donnie might be even more frightening than Jordan, because in the end, at least Jordan has a soul. Donnie is a consumer and represents the battle between Main Street and Wall Street, but of course, in this case, the latter wins out. Donnie, Jordan and their merry band of stock market-playing hooligans are Gordon Gekko incarnated, and they chant his mantra — “greed is good” — incessantly. By the end, you may believe it, too.

Rating: 8.8/10

“The Wolf of Wall Street” is currently playing at the Nugget.