The Wolf of Wall Street is surprisingly thought-free
Directed by Martin Scorsese. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill. Rated 18A.
Greed is bad! Greed is bad! Now, keep repeating that for three hours, while picturing all the fun you’d have with a mountain of money, and you pretty much have The Wolf of Wall Street.
Of course, when the filmmaker is Martin Scorsese and the star is Leonardo DiCaprio, the eye will be well occupied even when the mind wanders elsewhere, as is bound to happen, given the surprisingly thought-free script from Terence Winter, one of the main minds behind The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire. He adapted his tale, rather uncritically, from the memoirs of Jordan Belfort, a small-time scammer who, in the 1980s and ’90s, managed to hustle from thousands of working schnooks.
DiCaprio plays Belfort, initially seen as a wide-eyed innocent taken under the wing of an experienced Wall Street maven, played brilliantly by Matthew McConaughey in a couple of largely improvised scenes. Unfortunately, those are the film’s best moments, and the last in which you feel any sympathy for Belfort.
After the stock-market crash of 1987, he starts over with penny stocks on Long Island, and acquires a right-hand man, played with buck-toothed-lapdog geekiness by Jonah Hill. As he clambers up the food chain, Jordan dumps his frowzy ethnic wife in favour of a blond vixen (Pan Am’s Australia-born Margot Robbie) to go with his mansion, sports cars, 137-foot yacht, and all the blow that can be FedExed from Bolivia
In short, Belfort’s a major jerk and you can’t wait to see him taken down. Oh, but wait you do, while watching scene after repetitive scene with the overamped tycoon exhorting his fist-pumping troops to be even more mercenary with the suckers they reel in. These pseudosatirical rallies are staged energetically, complete with naked ladies and flying dwarves. Even as feds close in on the operation, nothing like reflection or insight is offered. Instead, we get long bouts of Quaalude-inspired humour (can there be slow slapstick?) and the principals ad-libbing macho riffs on what we’ve already seen. You walk out wondering who the real suckers are.