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posted: 12/25/2013 12:25 AM

Scorsese's 'Wolf' a Wall Street comedy with dramatic chops

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  • Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) battles Donnie (Jonah Hill) for the telephone in one of many comic sequences in Martin Scorsese's fact-based movie "The Wolf of Wall Street."

      Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) battles Donnie (Jonah Hill) for the telephone in one of many comic sequences in Martin Scorsese's fact-based movie "The Wolf of Wall Street."

  • Video: WOLF OF WALLSTREET trailer

 
 

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio have a special present waiting for us at the movie theaters.

It's titled "The Wolf of Wall Street." It's an operatic ode to greed, gluttony, selfishness, taking advantage of people and watching out for No. 1.

It's a comedy.

And, miraculously, nobody gets killed, making this about the closest thing to a Christmastime Scorsese movie since "Hugo" -- uh, except for the eyeball-popping graphic nudity and kinky sex stuff that you might not believe earned a relatively tame R-rating (reportedly awarded after extreme trims were made to a Las Vegas flight sequence).

"The Wolf of Wall Street" tells the true story of Jordan Belfort, a New York stock broker who became rich during the 1990s and subsequently a symbol for Wall Street excess.

In 1998, he was indicted on securities fraud and money laundering.

He turned his friends and co-workers into the FBI as part of a plea deal.

DiCaprio plays Belfort with breezy, sleazy, easy charm, as he reigns as ringmaster of Stratton Oakmont, a razzle-dazzle financial circus aimed at bilking clients.

Scorsese, operating from Terence Winter's smart and whippy adaptation of Belfort's book, depicts this world not as a community of professionals, but as a crass culture of pigs.

Sexual debauchery in the office is demanded, not just accepted.

Humanity? Respect? Forget about it.

Conscienceless amorality and base hedonism have their illicit allures, for sure, but there's no way seedy swines like Belfort can hold our attention and allegiance for a three-hour movie (yes, three hours). Except here he does.

As he did in the fact-based gangster drama "GoodFellas," Scorsese sucks us into this world by using his lead character to seduce us.

We don't just observe him, we become him, see what he sees, think how he thinks.

Even when "Wolf" falls into bizarre and audacious farce -- Belfort, loaded up on sedatives, tries to get home with his out-of-control body -- it's hilariously funny. Even funnier when we realize we've been duped into seeing reality through Belfort's eyes. Again.

DiCaprio frequently breaks the "fourth wall," talking directly to us, revealing tricks of the trade, giving us insider tips and persuading us to hang with him for this mini-epic. And we do because the experience is like a grand magician revealing the mysteries of the unseen.

Jonah Hill, equipped with scary white teeth and scarier wardrobe, makes a perfect none-too-bright sidekick for Belfort.

Australian newcomer Margot Robbie is deliciously manipulative as Belfort's knockout trophy bride. Kyle Chandler provides his federal agent with his usual low-key authority.

But it's Matthew McConaughey's cameo as Belfort's first mentor that sets the strange and comical tone for this movie.

You want to see more of him.

In the end, "The Wolf of Wall Street" reveals itself to be a standard morality tale in which the bad guys get their just desserts.

It's just that their unjust desserts seem to make it all worth while.

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