The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Wolf of Wall Street

Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street is one of the best movies about addiction that I've ever seen. It's not drugs or alcohol that are the vice here, although plenty of both are consumed. No, this is a film about addiction to money. With great precision, it details the way money takes over the life of the main character, turning him into a legitimately awful human being with little or no sense of the harm he's inflicting upon those around him. That could make for a fairly depressing experience, but Scorsese and screenwriter Terence Winter (The Sopranos) have turned this true story into a comedy and believe it or not, the movie is more powerful for it.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort, a young man who gets a job as a stock broker, loses it, then starts his own firm with an associate, Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill). The business becomes a smashing success, with Jordan figuring out a way to make big bucks by selling penny stocks. Before long, it's one of the most lucrative brokerage firms on Wall Street. Every new triumph is celebrated with office debauchery: drugs, prostitutes, marching bands, you name it. The deals become shadier, and eventually the feds, led by agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler), come calling.

The Wolf of Wall Street shows how much work it is to be rich. Jordan loves all the things money can buy, as well as all the opportunities it affords him. Only someone as wealthy as he can afford to exist in a state of near-perpetual chemical intoxication. Only someone with more cash than they know what to do with can open the doors to sex and power that he opens. However, it all comes with a cost. His marriage to the girl of his dreams, Naomi (Margot Robbie, in a put-you-on-the-map performance), begins to deteriorate quickly, and he's constantly putting out serious fires to avoid losing what he has. This is especially apparent when he tries to open up a Swiss bank account to hide money earned from illegal practices. Multiple things threaten that account, requiring Jordan to keep inventing creative ways to avoid calamity. He takes Quaaludes to chill him out, then snorts coke when something needs done. Genuine rest or relaxation is never an option when there's money to be made or protected.

A whole lot of immoral behavior is on display in the film, all of it very R-rated. Much of it is played for laughs, at least on the surface. The unexpected comic vibe of The Wolf of Wall Street is what makes its themes so poignant. We laugh at Jordan Belfort because he's utterly clueless as to how pathetic he is. The things he does are not funny-haha, but funny-sad. Perhaps the movie's biggest example of this is an extended sequence in which Jordan, hopped up on 'ludes, finds himself unable to function in an emergency. When he finally thinks of a way to deal with it, the solution is just as bad as the problem it's allegedly solving. This scene plays out in an exaggerated comic manner brilliantly executed by DiCaprio and while it earns some huge laughs, they come from recognizing the absurdity of the situation in which the character has placed himself. All the money, chemicals, sex, and toys don't really seem to be making him a happy person, despite what he tells himself. In fact, it's bought him little more than abject misery.

We've not seen Leonardo DiCaprio in a role like this before. He's magnetic. There are several moments in which Jordan addresses his employees with all the vigor of a revival preacher. They are his congregation, and his word is gospel. DiCaprio also does a magnificent job of conveying Jordan's unhinged nature. Like a kid run amok in a candy store, he cheerfully overindulges in everything, using his unabashed avarice as a tool to impress or inspire others. At one point, Denham comments that most stockbrokers come from generations of douchebags (his word), while Jordan has achieved that status all by himself. DiCaprio makes the character King Douche, in a performance of awe-inspiring commitment.

The supporting players, especiall Hill and Matthew McConaughey (as Jordan's early mentor), are outstanding too, and Scorsese once again masterfully modifies the story's tone as it goes through the different stages of Jordan's cash addiction. The Wolf of Wall Street isn't a message movie, although it most certainly asks some pointed questions: How much money is enough? Does being wealthy matter if your life is a mess? Doesn't the need to constantly chase after more cash take away from the pleasures of having it in the first place? Wickedly funny, smart as a whip, and immensely perceptive, The Wolf of Wall Street shows that being addicted to money is every bit as damaging as addiction to substances, sex, or anything else.

( out of four)

The Wolf of Wall Street is rated R for sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language throughout, and for some violence. The running time is 2 hours and 59 minutes.

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