In a year where Noah Baumbach’s crack at Mauvais Sang turned out to be his Jason Reitman (pre Young Adult) picture, so Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf Of Wall Street has to be contextualized as the aging director’s Salo. Like Pasolini’s disgusting, objectively moral masterpiece, it has been quite misunderstood. David Thomson derided Salo as mere “Gay pornography” and academy milquetoasts have already how-dared-you’d Scorsese as having made the cinematic equivalent of coke up your nose. Of course it is that, but in filming the human beasts of Stratton Oakmont Marty cops the same tactic as Pier Paolo: show us the lives of monsters by indulging them on their own terms. Scorsese has never disliked the subjects of one of his movies more than in Wolf, but aside from stray bluesman music queues and a rivulet of tearblood running down Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio)’s face late on, Scorsese hides his hand beneath pure, pumping chaos. Thomson might as well call it “Frat-suit” pornography and he would be just as wrong.
Wolf completes one of those unofficial trilogies most great directors have stocked in the oeuvre, capping a whattatimeitwas saga that includes the overrated Goodfellas and the damned underrated Casino. Like the latter, Wolf runs a tight three hours (feels like two) and is enmeshed with Belfort’s behind the curtain voice-over that has the sensation of a life’s DVD audio commentary. With breathless arrogance he introduces us to his mansion, color-corrected trophy car, lingerie-pocked trophy wife (Margot Robbie, excellent and seemingly dubbed over by Debi Mazar) before flashing back to when he was green “pond scum” on the phone floor. A kind of overture takes place during lunch with senior broker Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), who instructs Belfort in the holy trinity of stock labor: Cocaine, hookers and masterbation. He pounds his chest, intoning a dirge-like battle cry, and one of the only flaws in a movie about flaw is that McConaughey vanishes soon after. Jordon takes over though, starting from the bottom but soon inhaling a penny stock hole-in-the-wall run by Spike Jonze (who is verminlike and surreal to watch here after you’ve downed his masterly Her) and, with the help of the reptilian Donny (never better Jonah Hill) starts a rogue firm that goes after “Moby Dicks” with the net of Belfort’s phone call script. Sleazy guys from the old neighborhood, mostly pot dealers with nicknames like “Rugrat” and “Sea Otter” join in, and soon S.O. is grabbing the attention of Forbes and, to Belfort’s eternal chagrin, an FBI agent (Kyle Chandler) desperate to deflate the Wolf’s shit eating gold grin.
At its orgiastic zenith--gangbangs in the office, substance snorted from between the mountainous ass-cheeks of another nameless hooker, dwarfs used for target practice and subhumanly categorized as “those things”, an airplane fuck fest that erupts in a turbulent blaze of fluids and Bolivian Marching Powder--The Wolf Of Wall Street is genuinely shocking. You feel things are not too far away from visual penetration (I never thought I’d be reminded of the XXX classic Wanda Does Wall Street in a Christmas Day screening). Hill is especially repellant, his thick shades and blindingly white chompers evoking some nebulous creature of the underground like Jamie Gillis (or one of Salo’s fat fascists-seriously, make it a double feature). It’s the kind of indictment-through-indulgence that Adam McKay and Will Ferrell botched in the unfunny and wretch-rewarding Anchorman 2. Scorsese/DiCaprio approach this material exactly right, by making Wolf a veritable advertisement for this lifestyle, letting fallout sneak in by frequently cutting to the apprehensive face of a secretary getting her head shaved in return for breast implant funding, just as Pasolini allowed doomed austerity to stand in for hand-wringing. Watching Wolf is a self-interrogative process: how much of this do we want for ourselves? How much would our own too much be? The brilliant final shot literally holds a mirror to the audience. Both times I’ve seen the film comments of “how awful this is” are silenced by that last composition. If you jerk off to Salo or The Wolf Of Wall Street you probably deserve to be locked up, but it means you’re human too, damn it.
The supporting cast happens to be the best Scorsese has worked with since Casino, with Rob Reiner being relevant for the first time since Spinal Tap as Mad Max Belfort, inclined to loose his shit when the phone rings during TV as he is to wax fondness for unshaved bush with his son. Robbie is a smoldering revelation, Chandler and the redeemed Jean Dujardin make for delicious foils, the ex-Artist especially smarting when allowed speech enough to call Belfort, and by extension his cohorts, “American shit.”
Yet it’s DiCaprio, freed from the noxious Luhrmann smog, who unequivocally exhilarates. As proven by Woody Allen’s Celebrity and QT’s Django, he’s probably at his best when himself unchained and insane. Throughout Wolf he screams and slams fist and mic upon his boiling frame. (A collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson simply must happen if Scorsese follows-through with his long teased retirement.) If this isn’t the best of his five films with Scorsese (I’m quite fond of The Aviator) it’s certainly the one most thoroughbred to earn comparisons with the unimpeachable Bobby D collaborations of yore. One particular tour de force set piece involving a car, Popeye, and an overdose of Quaaludes is, dare I say, worthy of Taxi Driver’s brothel shootout. You just cannot believe what you're watching, and when was the last time I experienced that? The fucking Counselor?
Note also how Scorsese often limits his directorial virtuosity in many passages, sometimes just simply recording (as Peter Bogdanovich said of Howard Hawks’ style) the macho high jizz fireworks in the room. DiCaprio is Marty’s ultimate tracking shot here. In a ‘13 glutted with academy compromises (12 Years A Slave), failures of nerve (Gravity) and the genuinely risible (The Great Gatsby-how dare they!) a border smashing clusterfuck like this should be equally savored and loathed. Welcome to The 180 Minutes Of Sodom.