FROM THE DEN AT HOME — Debauchery. It’s a word that appears a handful of times in director Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street,” a film that’s been described by some critics as a cautionary tale regarding the excesses of Wall Street.
“Debauchery” is indeed an apt encapsulation of “Wolf”; from frame to frame, the film oozes with it. On the other hand, I’m not at all comfortable describing “Wolf” as “cautionary,” “instructive” or with any other word that suggests it offers much in the way of redemptive or educational value.
Scorsese’s genius for the visceral is certainly on full display in this true story about Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), a morally-degenerate, 1990s-era stockbroker whose company, Stratton Oakmont, tore through Wall Street like a wrecking ball. Belfort and his minions heartlessly swindled unsuspecting, largely unsophisticated investors of more than $220 million with a so-called “pump and dump” scam involving “penny stocks.”
I’ve never seen anything quite like “Wolf,” nor any performance by DiCaprio quite this depraved and licentious. Viewing this film is like being a fly on the wall at the world’s biggest, longest, most obscene frat party; three hours of drug-fueled sex, thievery, perversion, scheming, misogyny and dirty dealing explodes off the screen in a whirlwind of immorality that may leave some viewers feeling as if they need a shower.
There’s a story buried inside all that wickedness; a story that’s part crime procedural, with FBI agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) hot on Belfort’s trail, and Belfort doing his slapdash worst to evade the determined public servant.
Most of the time, though, Belfort’s too busy with other matters to worry much over Denham; there always another prostitute to pay; another line of coke to snort; another Quaalude to pop; another crack-rock to smoke; another car to crash; another head to shave; another blue-collar sucker to bilk out of hard-earned thousands; another pound of money to launder.