Movie Review:‘Wolf of Wall Street’ is as deceptively entertaining as protagonist

Tragic and hilarious, exhausting and exhilarating, “The Wolf of Wall Street,” is the kind of movie that makes you laugh so hard you’re reluctant to see it again. If that kind of movie didn’t exist before, it does now.

And if I sound like I’m contradicting myself, it’s because I am. “The Wolf of Wall Street” is a profoundly messy, overlong and complicated film that can’t be contained.

It thrives in that indefinable realm between sincerity and satire that so often divides audiences.

Its detractors will no doubt argue the film endorses the illicit activities of its characters – the excessive drug usage, the cavalier misogyny, the financial schadenfreude – while the film’s defenders will claim that its opponents have fallen into director Martin Scorsese’s trap. After all, depicting the appeal of a lurid, amoral lifestyle is not the same as advocating it.

The story is based on the memoir of Jordan Belfort (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), who, during the ’80s and ’90s made himself a bajillion dollars as a charismatic, but crooked Wall Street stockbroker through his company, Stratton Oakmont, which sounds so phony that you sometimes feel no sympathy for the investors that were conned.

In the film, Belfort is almost completely bereft of a conscience, but since he’s played by DiCaprio, we’re naturally drawn to him. A consummate sleazeball with devout followers, Belfort embodies America’s fascination with extravagant wealth. We hate him for the collateral damage his profession causes, but we also want to be him in some ways.

He’s a character that America created and reinforces even as his kind are responsible for the recent financial meltdown. He’s also something of a twisted inspiration. He’s completely self-made and we admire him despite how the behavior he encourages disgusts us and makes us laugh at the same time.

Almost all of the film’s laugh are guilty, stemming from repulsive behavior like paying a woman to shave off all her hair so she can afford breast implants, or hosting cocaine orgies in the company building, or throwing dwarfs at giant targets like darts.

So funny and deceptively entertaining, the film might cause many to walk out of the theater high off Belfort’s drug-induced energy. Or it might leave you hopeless.

Or you might not take away anything from it at all, much like Belfort, who narrates practically the entire movie, describing what’s already on the screen because he’s unable to consider the consequences of his actions, even in retrospect.

But the film’s last shot, one of the saddest in recent memory, seals the deal, confirming that Scorsese wants to do more than just entertain, suggesting that we are responsible for our own misfortunes, for Belfort and for people like him, and by consequence, for the movie itself.

3 stars out of 4

Rated R for sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language throughout, and for some violence.