Among the things that Martin Scorsese does better than any director ever is to portray wretched excess in a way that makes depravity, criminality, vice and greed seem like good, clean fun.
In such films as Goodfellas and Casino, Scorsese plunged us into the
worlds of mobsters and gamblers with a visceral rush, employing stupendous filmmaking to make us forget our scruples and root for the villains.
His latest film, The Wolf of Wall Street, is another epic-scale anatomy of bad behavior, this time in the story of Jordan Belfort, a stock broker who, in real life, lived like a depraved Roman emperor on the backs of investors whom he systematically scammed.
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Played by Leonardo DiCaprio with a gusto that was missing in The Great Gatsby, Belfort is drug-fueled, oversexed, conscience-free, and relentless, doing anything in his power to accumulate wealth, making Gordon Gecko look like a guy cheating at checkers.
Belfort is abetted by a sleazy band of fellow brokers (led by Jonah Hill), encouraged by his sexpot wife (a brilliant Margot Robbie), and hounded by a squeaky-clean FBI agent (played with breezy grit by Kyle Chandler).
Mostly, though, he’s led through his paces by Scorsese with verve and ingenuity. Now in his 70s, the director still has the passion, strength and inventiveness he first showed 40 years ago. He makes a massive three-hour film breeze by in a breath. It goes down so smoothly, in fact, that you almost forget how awful Belfort is. And that, friends, is a feat.