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Movies

Leo is charismatically loathsome as 'The Wolf of Wall Street'


Published:   |   Updated: December 27, 2013 at 09:03 AM

Leonardo DiCaprio's most charismatic performance ever anchors Martin Scorsese's robust and raunchy lowlifes-of-high-finance comedy “The Wolf of Wall Street.” This is their greatest teaming, a veritable “Citizen Kane” of the post-“greed is good” era — three hours of cocaine and orgies and high-living by the sorts of gauche gamblers who brought that age, and the world economy, to its knees.

It is Scorsese's “La Dolce Vita,” a manic, coke-fueled stock market “Goodfellas” following the rise and epic fall of a crook. All that's missing are the victims, and the outrage.

DiCaprio is Jordan Belfort, an eager-beaver young broker-in-training who takes the mesmerizing patter from his drugs, sex and making-money mentor Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) to heart. The name of the game, Hanna purrs, is “moving the money from the client's pocket to your pocket.”

A light goes off in idealistic Jordan's head. Who cares if the client does well? It's all about your commissions, your shady deals, getting rich because “money makes you a better person.”

A light goes off in the viewer's head, too. Before anybody starts stamping DiCaprio's name on the Oscar, here's old Matthew to remind us that nobody has had a better year acting in the movies — nobody. If Mark Hanna had more than two scenes, McConaughey might have stolen the movie.

But this isn't Oliver Stone's preachy, good-man-falls-far opera “Wall Street.” This is about Jordan's layoff during the financial crash of 1987 and his rebirth as a penny stocks-trading bottom feeder, the sort of smooth, money-printing huckster who lures proteges and followers like a revival preacher. Donnie (Jonah Hill) is the first. Assorted other “guys from the neighborhood” follow.

That's the genius of this. The savvier Wall Street pundits noticed how brokers, traders and derivatives specialists went from making a very good living in the early Reagan years to making obscene amounts of money by the end of the Reagan years. And these pundits asked “How did these goons get so smart?” And “How do they figure they're worth that kind of money?”

“The Wolf of Wall Street” captures the delusional, under-educated ignoramuses with nothing but hunger who nag clients into buying stocks that might make them money, might lose money. But either way, these guys got paid.

DiCaprio brings a religious fervor to this performance. Where his Gatsby was shy, aloof and shady, Jordan Belfort is a combination of Oral Roberts and Joel Osteen, pep rallying his flock to his prosperity gospel.

Marriages founder and a mountain of cocaine goes up Jordan and his team's noses. Hill, wearing shiny, fake teeth and that boyish hedonism that's been his trademark, brings a crackling, improvisational feel to his scenes with DiCaprio.

The otherworldly beauty Margot Robbie plays “The Duchess of Bay Ridge,” stunning but just as New York working class as any of them once she opens her “Guinea Gulch” (Italian-Brooklyn) mouth. Or course Jordan must have her, but she makes little impression beyond the lust that first inspires him.

It's a movie whose melodramatic flourishes — a storm at sea in which all Jordan and Donnie can do is cope with Quaaludes, a plane crash — are made no less melodramatic by the fact that they're actually true.

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