A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, 2013)

Leonardo DiCaprio has replaced Robert De Niro as Martin Scorsese's go-to leading man, but he has yet to make his Raging Bull (1980) or Taxi Driver (1976), which many people -- including me -- think of as the peak achievements of both Scorsese and De Niro. The Wolf of Wall Street comes close to being DiCaprio's GoodFellas (1990). Both movies are based on true stories that illuminate the dark side of American experience: In the case of GoodFellas, the mob, and for Wolf, the unholy pursuit of wealth in the stock market. Both are in large part black comedies, full of sex and drugs, and both end in an inevitable downfall. And both have been criticized for excessively glamorizing the lifestyles of their protagonists. Terence Winter's adaptation of the memoir of Wall Street fraudster Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) spares no excess in depicting a life corrupted by unchecked greed, and yet neither Winter nor Scorsese seems able to put the course of Belfort's corruption into plausible shape, the way Scorsese and screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi made Henry Hill's rise and fall plausible in GoodFellas. It's a flamboyant film, with entertaining and sometimes frightening performances by DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Jon Bernthal, and Jean Dujardin, but the film often seems to be carried away with its own determination to get away with as much outrageous behavior and language as possible. I would have welcomed a little less Jordan Belfort and a little more Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler), who was based on Gregory Coleman, the FBI agent who finally managed to bring Belfort down. But as in GoodFellas, the emphasis is less on the law than on the disorder.

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