A brazen three-hour cinematic bender of sex and drugs set to the tune of financial chaos, “The Wolf of Wall Street” is undoubtedly the craziest movie of Martin Scorsese’s career. With an untamed energy that dwarfs any of his crime dramas, Scorsese’s raucous, exhausting display is driven by an eager commitment to vulgarity. As stock market scammer Jordan Belfort, Leonardo DiCaprio’s unfettered ferocity meshes with Scorsese’s aim of exploring Belfort’s crafty early nineties rise. Turning his memoir into a vivid portrait of the hedonistic excesses associated with unregulated wealth, “The Wolf of Wall Street” amps up an absurd volume of entertainment value. But it also suffers from an overabundance of the qualities that elevate it to such ridiculous heights. Scorsese depicts his maniacal subjects far better than he interrogates their mania.
Terence Winter's screenplay provides a loose structure for Scorsese's wildly improvised tale, which opens in the midst of a stockbroker office party before sketching out Belfort's origin story. It takes little time to establish that Belfort will be our guide to the mayhem, which in its opening minutes finds the character careening down the highway in a sports car while receiving fellatio from his trophy wife before crashing a helicopter into the front lawn of his mansion. As Belfort narrates this brash introduction to his reckless lifestyle, Scorsese unleashes a slew of stylistic bells and whistles: freeze frames, slo-mo, a blaring rock soundtrack and snazzy camerawork set the stage for a tale of debauchery that refuses to let up.
Certainly a funhouse for Scorsese's longtime editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, "The Wolf of Wall Street" feels both totally slick and assaultive, an apt tone for Belfort's self-destructive world. For sheer liveliness, it ranks as the most robust teaming for DiCaprio and Scorsese, and provides ample terrain for Jonah Hill to diversify his range in a supporting role as Belfort's wildcard business partner.
While not as refined as "The Departed," it has a lot more gall. DiCaprio and Scorsese compensate for the lethargic stretches of "Shutter Island" and "The Aviator" by bringing a demented vigor to each moment. The resulting bravado gels nicely with the material while echoing the gritty qualities of Scorsese's earlier works. Harkening back to the jittery sleazeballs of "Mean Streets," Belfort and company decontextualize the usual Scorsese brand of crime by turning it into a cartoonish office farce. Until the FBI catches up, these swindlers are more liberated in their savage pursuits than any other clandestine lawbreakers in the Scorsese oeuvre.