Though nowhere near top-credited, casting Joanna Lumley (who played Patsy on TV’s Absolutely Fabulous) was Martin Scorsese’s smartest move in the making of this amusing though unsatisfying hymn to the palaces of excess. She’s perfectly situated there to remind you of what Scorsese does best: chronicling lives lived far beyond the limitations of polite society. This one is abundantly strewn with humping, snorting, and, being a Scorsese movie, lots of ’60s rock ’n’ roll. Maybe it’s about the shameless fleecing of the American marketplace, but The Wolf of Wall Street’s most memorable moment is a prolonged set piece involving super-strength Quaaludes and slapstick, drugged bad behavior culminating in a cocaine-aided Heimlich rescue: It’s pure Ab Fab. The master is hard at work here, exceeding timid-hearted Oliver Stone by many milligrams.
Though everything in The Wolf of Wall Street feels epic, it’s a little wearying in the end. Scorsese seems to throw his whole arsenal at the screen. DiCaprio as real-life penny-stock monster Jordan Belfort breaks the fourth wall, soliloquizing while long, swooping shots record his frenzied office of greed-heads cursing and gobbling cash. Minutes later, the camera mirrors the office as bedroom, and the same brokers give orgies a bad name. We get cinematic thought balloons and naked hard bodies, and, in gratuitous glory, a yacht crashing through disastrous seas. When an airplane blows up overhead, all we can think is, “Whatever.”
That same emotional overdose applies to Scorsese’s antihero, an American con man working Wall Street’s fringes but nowhere near as interesting as the gangsters, taxi drivers, and street hoods the director has given us during the last 40 years. Maybe it’s the lack of operatic violence — Scorsese’s hallmark — but DiCaprio’s hubris seems puny. More likely, however, it’s just that there is too much movie and too little point. Wolf runs too long and hard at us; meanwhile, Scorsese seems to be busily remaking his whole career, from Raging Bull to Casino, super-enriching everything. It has absolutely fabulous levels of fun, black humor, beauty, and vice, but in the end it all seems a long, loud, ultimately empty howl.