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'Wolf of Wall Street' review: Scorsese and DiCaprio have never been better

“The Wolf of Wall Street” is a towering achievement for both Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio.

A relevant farce and cynical deconstruction of greed and excess, “Wolf” is based on Jordan Belfort’s memoir, “The Wolf of Wall Street” and chronicles the sly con-man in the late 1980s as he turned a small-time penny stock brokerage firm into the thriving and fraudulent Stratton Oakmont, whose wide-spread corruption swept across Wall Street and the corporate banking world into the early 90s. 

Scorsese paints the rise and fall of Belfort and his Long Island pals-turned securities frauds like a raucous circus, a pressure cooker of debauchery and gratuitousness. As Jordan Belfort defies the world, including the wise advice from his own father and as the money, drugs and greed compound exponentially, the film explodes into a wild self-destructive revelry. This is one of Scorsese’s most fascinating films and, along with screenwriter Terence Winter’s superb adaptation, once again examines the effects of corruption, greed and power, which has been a staple in his films, but unlike others, this is presented like a comedy of errors rather than the dark morality tale of “Goodfellas.” Not that this isn’t a dark film, it’s just masked in gobs of confetti, bright color and a cocaine-addled high. Just be warned that some of the early scenes featuring raucous debauchery, explicit sex and drug use may not be for the faint of heart.

Leonardo DiCaprio is transcendent as the “Wolf of Wall Street” Jordan Belfort, a raging performance of unbridled energy, charisma and extraordinary destruction. It’s as if DiCaprio packed all his type-A characters, from Jay Gatsby to Howard Hughes, into one coked-up body and created Jordan Belfort. He’s a force of nature from the film’s start to its final frame. DiCaprio has never been better than this nor has he carried a film as strongly. It’s impossible to peel your eyes from his frantic monologues, paranoid voice-overs, and insane frat-boy behavior or even at his most pathetic when he finally bottoms out.

While this is easily DiCaprio’s strongest performance, it’s Jonah Hill who is an absolute knockout as Belfort’s partner Donnie Azoff. With fake buckteeth and a relentless vigor, Hill is completely transformed from any role we have ever seen him. Azoff’s tenacity has charm but there’s also grubbiness to it, which Hill masters perfectly. As a young married guy looking to leave his poor, mundane life behind, Azoff blindly jumps onto Belfort’s reckless and illegal bandwagon. Hill and DiCaprio together are often hilarious and while both characters are sleazy, the two actors manage to infuse tinges of melancholy and sympathy, making these characters far more complicated than their greedy and superficial outer shells.

Even though he’s in the film for about 10 minutes out of three hours, Matthew McConaughey is outstanding. He doesn’t stop speaking for nearly his entire screen presence and after he’s gone, you can feel the rush of wind as he exits. More than any other actor, this has been McConaughey’s year and his brief appearance here will be unforgettable. Newcomer Margot Robbie is dazzling as Belfort’s wife who welcomes the charmed life he provides before his egregious behavior threatens her stability. Also noteworthy are Oscar-winner Jean Dujardin and Rob Reiner, who gives a hearty performance as Jordan’s father and the only voice of reason in the entire picture.

Though the performances and screenplay are scintillating, it is master editor Thelma Schoonmaker’s cutting that makes this 3-hour epic fly by. She can cut dialogue like no other and it’s her editor’s voice that shines strongest throughout “Wolf,” brilliantly adapting Belfort’s manic personality to the film’s pacing.  

Wild, offbeat and insane, “The Wolf of Wall Street” is one of the year’s best films and a definite career-topper for DiCaprio who, with Scorsese, have given us another phenomenal collaboration.

Paramount Pictures. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 2 hours and 59 minutes.

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