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On The Silver Screen: ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’

It’s like falling out of love. You think you know someone and then they do something that bewilders and disappoints you, big time. You search your mind for clues. Where did this come from?

That is how I feel about film director Martin Scorsese and his latest venture “The Wolf of Wall Street.” I was so prepared to love this movie, as I have most of his other films. Scorsese, after all, is one of the great American film-makers of all time, and a personal favorite of mine. He is a director of great human understanding.

His subject matter usually deals with the darker side of society, but he has always managed to show the humanity – the hidden light, if you will, that emerges from the dark side – until now. “The Wolf of Wall Street” is not a dark film, visually; it is bright and energetic, but very dark in nature.

The film is about wheeler-dealers with no redeeming value. I just don’t know what to make of it. What are we asked to feel? For three hours, we are given countless scenes of debauchery that includes heavy drug-taking, lots of nudity and profanity, misogyny, homophobia and not one character to care about. This is all done in a supposedly hip, comic style that left me mirthless. Is it a satire? Is it a morality tale? What, Scorsese, is it?

“The Wolf of Wall Street” is the true story of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), an ambitious superman stockbroker who rises to the top in the volatile world of finance. How he rapidly climbs the ladder to fame and fortune is what is dramatized.

Fueled by greed and self-gratification, Belfort earns his fortune by way of fraud. He is a corrupt man working in a corrupt environment; one of his own making, I hasten to add. He is aided and abetted by a clump of chums who follow him like the apostles. They are not very bright, but they manage to score big money deals.

The interactions and the over-the-top wild parties that litter this film are apparently the stuff of comedy, in Scorsese’s view.

I could accept much of this story if Scorsese led me to some understanding of why we should care for Belfort, a man who cheated and hurt many people, so he could live high on the hog. What galls me most is that the film is based on Belfort’s book. Not only does this criminal, who served very little time for his crimes, get a bundle for his story, he gets it told by a great director, Scorsese. Some people have all the luck.

Despite my displeasure, “The Wolf of Wall Street” has some very good performances, albeit one-note efforts. This is due to the director’s vision.

DiCaprio is non-stop frenetic. Jonah Hill as his sidekick is remarkable. A cameo by Matthew McConaughey is masterful. The rest of the cast act plays out like The Three Stooges – literally. There is never a moment in this movie where a character comes down to reality; never a glimpse of believability.

Halfway through the film, the dirty hijinks begin to pale. Then, something very ugly happens: A mean and violent episode that seemed so unnecessary to the plot and sensibility assaults us. This gratuitous scene was the turning point for me. This is where I changed from disappointment and dislike to a deep loathing for “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

“The Wolf of Wall Street” is currently playing in theaters.

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