Director Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street" is one of the most outrageous, lurid and extravagant movies from a mainstream director.
"Wolf" makes director Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby" (2013) look like "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (1937).
The debauchery of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), "The Wolf" of the movie's title, would seem to rival what we read and see of the lifestyles of the rich and famous, namely, rock stars, hip-hop stars, movie and TV actors, professional athletes, and Middle East potentates.
You may ask yourself: Is this any way to run a business? Apparently, if "The Wolf," based on a memoir by Belfort that profiles his rise and fall as a stockbroker, is to be believed.
Their lifestyle included dwarf tossing at corporate functions, "business expenses" that included sex for hire, and insider stock options prior to an investment firm initial public offering.
This is not your fun, frivolous, fluffy "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" (1967). "Wolf" is all business, including, it would seem, "monkey business."
It goes well beyond "Wall Street" (1987) and "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" (2010).
Belfort viewed his clients-customers-investors with the disdain, rapaciousness and passive-aggressive glee of a shrewd carnival barker. Investors were "marks." The dictum, as P.T. Barnum is said to have observed, that "a sucker is born every minute," seemed to be Belfort's firm's core value.
Belfort served 36 months in prison after being convicted of defrauding investors.
Even though the story takes place a decade and more earlier, "Wolf" can be seen as an indictment of casino capitalism, the high-risk game Wall Street often plays, which is said to have led to the Great Recession of 2007-'08.
"Wolf" is a metaphor for the American Dream, especially get-rich schemes at their potentially worst, not unlike the California Gold Rush.
"Wolf" is amazingly entertaining on a number of levels. Scorsese, perhaps the United States' and maybe the planet's most esteemed film historian, has made a classic that has the epic sweep of director Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" (1941); the family money melodrama of director George Stevens' "Giant" (1956) and the down and dirty drug-addled insanity of director Brian De Palma's "Scarface" (1983).
"The Wolf of Wall Street" is one of Scorsese's masterpieces, alongside his other landmarks, including "The Departed" (2006), "Gangs of New York" (2002) and "Goodfellas" (1990).
Scorsese uses cinematography as if it's a living, breathing entity, in camera set up, lens selection, camera angles, sweeping, swirling pans and, of course, editing, with intercutting, flashbacks, and scene re-creations.
Scorsese pulls out all the stops in his muscular film style, filling each frame with brio, vibrancy and immediacy, lending "Wolf" the sweep of an operatic and-or Shakespearean tragedy which it is not only for Belfort, but for his victims.
Scorsese uses voiceover to good effect, has Belfort (DiCaprio) talk directly to camera, and uses interior monologues, not unlike scripted asides in a Shakespeare play.
The screenplay by Terrence Winter (executive producer, TV's "Boardwalk Empire," "The Sopranos") is super smart, super cynical and has a super pedigree, even referencing Herman Melville's novel, "Moby Dick" (1851), a veiled indictment of the Industrial Revolution.
The soundtrack crackles and bursts with songs of the story's era, that of the 1980s - '90s, and of other decades (for example, 1977's "Ca Plane Pour Moi" by Plastic Bertrand) under the supervision of Robbie Robertson, a co-founder of seminal American roots rockers, The Band.
DiCaprio has never been better. He plays all angles of his character: from wheedling, to pleading, to exhorting, to controlling, to bullying. He builds it up and he tears it down. At times, one is reminded of the younger Jack Nicholson.
Jonah Hill (Donnie Azoff) is phenomenal as a nebbish with a penchant for saying and doing the wrong thing at the wrong time.
Matthew McConaughey has a key supporting role as Mark Hanna, a Mephistopheles-like investment official who tells Belfort that Wall Street is "a fugazi ... angel dust." Says Belfort "I was hooked in seconds."
Margo Robbie ("About Time," TV's "Pan Am") creates a stunning presence as Belfort's wife, Naomi.
In supporting roles are Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau, Christine Ebersole, Joanna Lumley and Fran Lebowitz.
Look for multiple Oscar nominations, including actor (DiCaprio), supporting actor (Hill), director (Scorsese), adapted screenplay (Winter), movie, and technical awards, including cinematography, editing (Thelma Schoonmaker) and costume.
"Wolf" is another of the great fact-based films of 2013, which will be remembered not only as the year of the African-American film-maker, but as one of cinema's best years ever.
Put "The Wolf of Wall Street" on your "must-see" Oscar contenders' list.
"The Wolf of Wall Street," MPAA Rated (Restricted. Children Under 17 Require Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian.) for sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language throughout, and for some violence; Genre: Biography, Comedy, Crime; Run time: 3 hours; Distributed by Paramount Pictures.
Credit Readers Anonymous: Jordan Belfort has a small role in "The Wolf of Wall Street" as the "Straight Line" TV infomercial host. Allentown native Seregon O'Dassey plays a masseuse to Donnie Azoff.
Box Office, Jan. 10: "Lone Survivor" was No. 1 in wide release, with a strong $38.5 million for the weekend, largest opening ever for a post 9/11 war movie, and $38.8 million, three weeks; sliding "Frozen" to No. 2, $15 million, $317.6 million, eight weeks; with "The Wolf of Wall Street," moving up to No. 3, with $9 million, $78.5 million, three weeks; and holding "The Legend of Hercules," to a No. 4 opening, with $8.6 million;
5. "American Hustle," $8.6 million, $101.5 million, five weeks; 6."The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," $8 million, $242.2 million, five weeks; 7. "August: Osage County," $7.3 million, $7.8 million, three weeks; 8. "Saving Mr. Banks," $6.5 million, $68.9 million, five weeks; 9. "Paranormal Activity; The Marked Ones," $6.3 million, $28.4 million, two weeks; 10. "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues," $6.1 million, $118.5 million, four weeks
Unreel: Jan. 17
"Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit," PG-13: Kenneth Branagh directs Chris Pine as Jack Ryan, with Kevin Costner and Keira Knightley and himself co-starring in the action-thriller based on the Tom Clancy series of novels. Here, the plot has to do with the CIA's attempt to thwart a Russian plot to crash the United States' economy. Wait. Didn't China already do that?
"Ride Along," PG-13: Ice Cube stars as a police officer and Kevin Hart as a security guard in the action comedy about a 24-hour police patrol car ride in Atlanta.
"The Nut Job," PG: The animated family comedy is about a squirrel in a park who opens Maury's Nut Store. No, it's not Scrat from "Ice Age." Will Arnett, Katherine Heigl, Brendan Fraser and Liam Neeson are among the voice talents.
"Devil's Due," R: A newlywed couple expects the unexpected in this homage, remake, rip-off? of "Rosemary's Baby." The horror film stars Allison Miller, Zach Gilford, Steffie Grote and Robert Belushi.
Read Paul Willistein's movie reviews at the Lehigh Valley Press web site, thelehighvalley-press.com; the Times-News web site, tnonline.com; and hear them on "Lehigh Valley Art Salon," 6 - 6:30 p.m. Mondays, WDIY 88.1 FM, and wdiy.org, where they're archived. Email Paul Willistein: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow Paul Willistein on Twitter and friend Paul Willistein on facebook.
Four Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes