Ours is an age of Occupy Wall Street getting one-tenth the attention of Rich Kids of Instagram, to no one’s surprise; even when spectacular wealth is condemned, it’s still spectacular. Enter Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, from the memoirs of Jordan Belfort, who triumphed as the con-genius figurehead of Stratton Oakmont before sinking under FBI scrutiny.
Scorsese’s clearly attempted a condemnation here of the one percent. The unapologetic Belfort dismisses financial protocols as cons, and even his downfall is moneyed. But this is a three-hour tour of masturbatory quick-cut decadence, with Leonardo DiCaprio as erstwhile Caligula, Emperor of Brome, aside a supporting cast that feels like a too-long improv session. And in those circumstances, its satire sometimes wavers, as with the sea of skin surrounding Belfort—women whose ill usage might register if Scorsese didn’t position them so firmly as largely-vacant sex objects.
Still, the film isn’t without showstopper scenes. DiCaprio nails some amazing physical comedy when delayed-hit quaaludes catch up with him, and there’s no doubt Scorsese can make the most of a tracking shot. Amid overwhelming frenetic energy (DiCaprio gives every line polyp-producing intensity), there are a few wise pauses for breath, like when Kyle Chandler’s underplayed FBI agent sits down with Belfort and proceeds to nudge him right out of his depth. There’s even the occasional feint at drama, as Belfort’s faced with betraying the employees who lionize him.
But there’s only so much examination possible of a character so lacking introspection, and at its heart, The Wolf of Wall Street is a profane comedy of money in which wealth is so seductive that even the movie sometimes gives in to the spectacle of it all.