|"The Wolf of Wall Street:" Success and excess as the toxic American mess.|
"The Wolf of Wall Street," which I just saw with Brad Kupiec and Matt Mattingly, is an outrageous black comedy about the true pinnacle and/or nadir of American ambition — getting your greedy hands on all the drugs, sex and money there is while cheerfully and ruthlessly conning and betraying everyone in your life.
The film is sharp as a scalpel exposing cancer, and funny as hell, portraying the real, brute-strength, Limbaugh-approved 21st century American Dream stripped of its pretenses.
Based on the memoirs of financial con artist Jordan Belfort, the film’s fantastic excesses of amoral consumption are double-edged, serving as both toxic satire and simple fact — a fact whose closeness to home clearly makes the Wall Street Journal uncomfortable.
Cartoonish? Yes, a point that director Martin Scorsese takes pains to underline by referring more than once to Belfort as being a James Bond villain, and then having Belfort essentially become Popeye, with cocaine substituting for spinach. Yet you never get the sense that any of these events didn’t or couldn’t have happened, as hideously bizarre as they are, and that’s part of what gives the film its unsettling artistic punch.
As Belfort, Leonardo DiCaprio confides his schemes to the audience like a cheery, coked-up, luded-out Richard III, and gives the best performance of his that I have seen.
The film ends with Belfort turned motivational speaker, off on a new con, making his pitch to an audience of mopes — desperate, down on their luck, daring to hope, victims he will transform into eager victimizers in a vicious cycle. They are the film audience staring at itself. They are America. They are us.
In a weird way, Matthew McConaughey plays the same kind of role here he played in “Magic Mike” — as a sympathetic guru/mentor of the aberrant path. And I think we are just about to reach the point where the only difference between a Hollywood film and pornography will be one of artistic intent. A glimpse of stocking is no longer shocking, nor is anything else, including the act of punching your beautiful wife straight in her gut. Good movies, too, that once used better words now only use four-letter words — one specific four-letter word used more than 500 times in this film, until it is emptied of vulgarity and meaning and becomes a mere verbal tick.
Finally, I think this is a profoundly moral film, something it accomplishes by draining all the moral value from human life and seeing what's left squirming on the beach when the tide is out.