The Wolf of Wall Street ★★★★

In exploring the corrupt heart of a greedy man, Terence Winter and Martin Scorsese challenge us to engage vicariously with what is ostensibly a caricature. There’s nothing endearing or even emotionally rewarding about that engagement, but The Wolf attempts to lure us in and captivate us by walking us through an animal farm of sex, drugs and insanity the likes of which only the richest of the richest could possibly experience.

Jordan Belfort is not an anti-hero. He’s a villain. But we never actually get to see just how big of a villain he is – we never really get a sense of the (literally) countless lives he destroyed, or the devastation of those simply left in his wake – we are only shown the person he transforms into as he reaps the benefits and eventual repercussions of his evil decisions.

Scorsese has made his career with characters like Belfort - seekers of the American Dream who ultimately self-destruct. But the problem that Scorsese has here is one of scope. The film is three hours long, and yet it doesn’t have enough time to tell the full story of Belfort’s villainy, which would require countless more characters in an already overflowing cast (most of which would be bit parts) and likely an absurd amount of exposition. So Scorsese limits his scope severely, and what we get is a thrill ride that truncates Belfort’s life to just the most insane moments. Which is certainly more watchable. But to call this film non-judgemental, or at least reserved in condemnation, doesn’t quite cut it. The amount of omission in this film actually creates pure escapism - a bizarro world in which a man only partially implodes under his own weight and never really understands the gravity of (nor is proportionally penalized for) his actions. Hell, his downfall only amounts to about twenty minutes of screen time, at the very end of the film. It’s all purposefully repugnant, but at a level which fulfills some baser component of our id, and so we can still find enjoyment in this experience. And boy, is it enjoyable.

Technically, the film is surprisingly messy. I was removed from the experience a number of times by noticing its horrible background inserts and sloppy effects work. And surely there’s a significant amount of material - somewhere upwards of 30 minutes - that could stand to be cut entirely. In short, the film looks rushed.

But the performances are fantastic, if heavily caricaturized, with DiCaprio and Hill being the standouts deserving of the most praise. The stack of supporting talent is a mile high, with Reiner and McConaughey making a big splash in an already huge pool.

Incredible dialogue, hilarious non-sequitur insert shots and a great deal of illustrated depravity make this film playful - a roller coaster that is difficult to disengage with. Which is why it all works.

And sweet Jesus, that Lemmon 714 sequence.