Matt Pais, @mattpais
RedEye movie critic
December 24, 2013
**1/2 (out of four)
A truer American hustle, Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street" bests David O. Russell's "American Hustle" in an important department: "Wolf" zeroes in on greed and need and says in vivid, convincing fashion, "Baby, the hungrier you are, the easier it is for me to feed you crap."
No, that's not a quote from the movie.
Like "Hustle," the three-hour "Wolf" features a great deal of voiceover and a main character who sees no fault in conning people. "Their money was better off in my pocket," notes Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio, funny but loud), the real-life stockbroker whose book inspired the film, defending the practice of selling junk stocks to his clients. He's following the path of his mentor (Matthew McConaughey, splendid in a brief role) who advocated coke, twice-daily masturbation and an attitude that turns Jordan into Jay Gatsby's reckless half-brother. Jordan's frequent boasting about horses and yachts could be mini versions of James Franco's amazing "Look at my [bleep]" speech in "Spring Breakers." His unquenchable greed and affinity for snorting drugs off hookers' posteriors turn him into something of a hedonistic cliche.
Perhaps a dudes-and-luudes movie like "Wolf," which at times feels like "Goodfellas" gone comedy, has to be somewhat cold. Jordan's an amoral playboy with no regard for the people he swindles or the wife (Cristin Milioti, Ted Mosby's wife on "How I Met Your Mother") he ditches for Naomi (Margot Robbie of "About Time"), a beauty worth naming a yacht for. Yet if the emotional detachment of "The Wolf of Wall Street" is partly deliberate, it's also a flaw in the script by Terence Winter, whose other movie about wanting to get rich or die trying was actually called "Get Rich or Die Tryin.' "
Just because Jordan neglects to see beyond his own nose doesn't mean the loooong "Wolf" has no time to pay attention to the deluded investors he leaves behind. It also doesn't validate the notion that no friends on Wall Street have a greater sense of looming betrayal than the one hanging over Jordan and his top guys (led by a distracting Jonah Hill). Instead, Jordan's self-indulgent priorities and the film's indifference to his victims mean "Wolf," which is fittingly smarmy but tries too hard to be funny, has low stakes -- even when tens of millions of dollars dangle in the air. Jordan's not a complex, tragic figure; he somewhat recalls Tucker Max. The film doesn't exactly advance the social and financial discussions of Oliver Stone's "Wall Street" or its many copycats that detach success from emotions.
Despite its conventional arc and limited interests, it's impossible to deny the vicarious pleasures of "The Wolf of Wall Street," a success if it creates even a temporary desire to sympathize with the bad guys and live in style. That money doesn't actually seem to buy Jordan happiness should be a surprise to no one, and of no concern to those drooling over his spoils.
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