Credit: Mary Cybulski / Paramount Pictures
Clocking in at a challenging, self-indulgent three hours (which, oddly, hardly seems enough), this modern operatic debauch is an attempt by Scorsese and his scenarist Terence Winter to showcase The Decline of the American Empire in all its naked, hollowed, self-hating glory, and to say that Scorsese nails it is a naive and rather foolish understatement.
Money here is worse than the root of all evil - it's rot. And at the center of this rot - and responsible for most of it - is DiCaprio's character, Jordan Belfort, a real-life stock trader so sociopathically crooked and so oblivious to his daily crimes that he almost seems like an innocent. Belfort, by all accounts, couldn't care less whether his clients made money, so long as his cut was intact. And his specialty wasn't fleecing the wealthy, but the struggling working man who he finessed into investing in crummy penny stocks. Even his supportive first wife, the sweet Teresa (Cristin Milioti), is empathetic enough to wonder why Jordan is targeting people who can't afford to lose money. Her decency gets in his way and she's out.
Enabling him are people who should know better (his father, played by Rob Reiner); those who invariably wise up (his Barbie-doll second wife, played by a terrific Margot Robbie, above); those who share his lack of scruples and dubious values (his friend and business partner Donnie Azoff, played to perfection by Jonah Hill), and those who impressed him in the wrong way (Matthew McConaughey, below with DiCaprio, in an extended cameo). But Jordan is way beyond control, and the movie depicting his rise, fall and kinda redemption is as outsized and excessive as he is.
"The Wolf of Wall Street" is like a big, brassy musical, but in lieu of production numbers, there's one outrageous orgy after another, with Scorsese serving as choreographer, caterer and maître d'.
But unlike your typical impresario, Scorsese eschews a big finish in favor of a series of telling scenes, one of which is of the F.B.I. agent (Kyle Chandler) who busted Belfort sitting in a subway car on his way home after a day's work - a sort of prison that Belfort smirkily refers to earlier in the film. A big finish, no. But it's appropriately quiet - and haunting.