"IF it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing!" wrote Ayn Rand.
When "The Wolf of Wall Street" came out, three hours long, but with the imprimatur of film genius Martin Scorsese and the starry talent of Leonardo DiCaprio on it, I was all eager to see it.
But I began to hear a lot of carping from my old fogey friends about how awful this movie was -- too long, full of the grossness of drugs, drink and naked orgies and other biological antics by greedy types from the boroughs, acting like they had no brakes on bad behavior, either on Wall Street proper, or in the world of penny stocks. A certain snobbery about the characters, based on a true-life tale, prevailed. What do you expect from denizens of Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens? Not high-level stealing and brains, usually, but guns and straight-forward crime.
BUT Leonardo DiCaprio has always had me in his corner from the moment I saw him as a kid in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape." I thought he should have won the Oscar last year for his diabolical Southern gentleman in Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained." And for my money, though I haven't always loved his movies, I still think Martin Scorsese is a New York genius and his "Goodfellas" is just about the most perfect film ever.
When I saw Leonardo accepting the Golden Globe from the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., in spite of the fun and games people make of that event; it had a ring of truth. He really was as good as he looks and he is a great actor.
SO NOW I've seen "The Wolf of Wall Street," a little late I know, but I thought it was a big, perfect, comic wallow of film gone completely wild. I enjoyed every minute -- the drastic truths of it and what are probably just dream versions of decadence, greed and graft.
THIS is a movie about a man born perfectly normal looking who becomes a Master of the Universe, an evangelist, a super salesman with convincing moves for how to steal with impunity and encourage others to do likewise. These guys could have been selling Bibles in sophisticated London, they are that good. They remind you of preachers who get all worked up about our giving money and being saved.
YOU should overlook certain excesses, which may only be their dreams of depravity of too much money stolen, starting with penny stocks and going on from there. People keep falling for Leonardo's salesmanship, his seduction techniques, his inspired leadership of the slightly under-class. The actor's on-screen switches between being just an aspiring guy and a sophisticated villain are incredible.
The role played by drugs in this is incredible, too. You don't know how these people are still standing. These '90s types aren't drawn into "Breaking Bad's" methamphetamine excesses; instead they are making do with speed and Quaaludes. And I don't want to give anything away but pay attention to the part where Leo goes to a local country club to use an unnoticeable phone in the middle of the night. The star of this scene is Leonardo's white Lamborghini.
As for Leonardo, well, Buster Keaton couldn't have done anything funnier.
As Leonardo's followers go completely crazy over making money and spending it on wives, kids, cars, jewelry, planes, helicopters, yachts etc., we see the contrast; the "dull tools" of the FBI, who are trying to nail them, riding to and from work on the subway, impervious to life at the top.
Leonardo is simply great as someone who can't get enough and he makes a private charmer-climber like F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Gatsby," with his small ambition of social success, look like a kindergartener. (You'll remember the actor played that role recently.)
There is a difference here, too, where the weak and wanting embrace lives of crime, but they don't branch out into selling drugs, prostitution, laundering money because they are men who can hire others to do the really low stuff.
I was surprised by this film, appalled, confounded, disbelieving sometimes, but riveted by this story of a leader with Hitler-like, spellbinding eloquence and how he sold only one thing -- getting rich, getting even and making himself and his ilk feel good.
In the end, of course, he is hoisted by his own petard of arrogance and some of his followers act dumber than Laurel and Hardy. But "The Wolf of Wall Street" is entertaining and riveting. And you can just close your eyes when they bring on those gorgeous naked girls, if that kind of thing offends you.
P.S. There is a scene in a Mediterranean storm where a yacht is trying to make it from Italy to Monaco, so the protagonists can control their Swiss bankers. It's just priceless. And a delicious moment happens when Leonardo consults on a park bench in London with an English duchess of a certain age. He is wondering -- "Is she trying to put the make on me?" She is gazing into his blue eyes, asking herself, "Is he trying to put the make on me?"
Go see "The Wolf of Wall Street" when you have three hours and want to feel decadent, and superior. Also, if you enjoy lessons in which the greedy and wicked are punished in the end.
But not too badly.
(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com.)
(c)2014 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.
'The Wolf of Wall Street' -- 3 hours of hilarious, cautionary, overindulgence
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