The Wolf of Wall Street ★★★★½

As a mantra, "I always wanted to be rich" exposes the small imagination behind Henry Hill's dream. Henry's goal is rooted in observation, a desire to just be the thing he sees, but Jordan Belfort's aim is always relative, a fluid state in which one must always be making more, and thus showing off that he has more. Those displays become somewhat tautological, spending wealth on unprofessional, even illegal things just to prove that the mere fact of their expense inculcates them from reprisal. Scorsese dutifully captures the strippers, fast cars, little-person tossing and so on through the drugged-out mind of the protagonist, but the harsh, cold white light of boiler room workfloors and the borders that line even the richest man's realms in New York's cramped space keep the camera sufficiently grounded not only to make something coherent of the improv-filled, debauched proceedings but to keep one foot planted far enough outside the subjectivity to make plain how full of shit Belfort is, which only makes everything funnier—my favorite moment of the film may be early on, when Hill's Donnie introduces Jordan to crack in a dark booth, only for them to run outside and it be revealed to be the middle of the afternoon as they stumble and yell in the street.

(And seriously, between this, After Hours and King of Comedy, Scorsese NEEDS to do comedy more often; this in particular shows how the Apatow brand of improv-driven films can still be subject to true, guiding filmmaking.)

Special note must be made of the performances, all of which are great but especially the main players. DiCaprio has never been so good, a man who only regresses, never grows, as he gets richer, turning ever more into a petulant child and a creature unable to do anything but satisfy every urge the second he feels them; he's so gleefully unrepentant that it only makes sense he should break the fourth wall to boast to the audience. Jonah Hill, alternately second fiddle and primary influence on Belfort, is as funny as he's been in a long, long time, overcoming the easy laugh of his false, impossibly white teeth for a performance that finds just the right balance of supplication and sarcasm. I also love Kyle Chandler as the FBI man whose do-gooderism seems to derive in part from his desire for the kind of life Jordan has: there's a shot of Chandler's face as he seriously weighs the option of accepting a bribe from Jordan that may have been what LAST TEMPTATION looked like if the camera simply held on Dafoe's face for a few seconds on the cross as he imagined that title temptation without us getting to see it. It's a minuscule bit of acting that's a reminder of how great and subtle Chandler is.