Movie review: “The Wolf” runs well, but too long

Leo DiCaprio stars in "The Wolf of Wall Street."

Leo DiCaprio stars in “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

By Sarah Cooperman, E Pluribus Unum

Ever go to a really good play, party or concert and at some point think to yourself, “This thing is starting to drag.” That’s the sensation I got when watching Martin Scorsese’s latest epic, “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

Based on the book by Jordan Belfort, the original “wolf,” this is the story of a young stockbroker who finds riches by selling penny-ante stocks with a combination of charisma, bullying and flim-flam in the late Eighties and early Nineties.

Leonardo DiCaprio is excellent in the lead role of Belfort. He manages to combine boyish charm with macho success; even when he is cheating almost everyone (wives, customers, the government) his character is difficult to entirely dislike.

Less likable is Jonah Hill as Donnie Azoff, Befort’s initial partner in crime.  Hill basically portrays the same character he’s done several times before, and is easy to overlook, despite his girth.

In fact, the fella who steals the show is the always-excellent Matthew McConaughhey as Belfort’s initial mentor, Mark Hanna.  He’s only on screen for about 10 minutes, but it’s his performance that sticks in your memory in addition to DiCaprio’s.220px-WallStreet2013poster

His explanation of the stock market is reassuring to those of us too timid to invest that way. “Nobody knows whether a stock is going to go up, down or sideways,” Hanna confesses. All that counts is to sell people something and pocket the commission.

Also noteworthy but getting not enough screen time is Kyle Chandler as FBI Agent Patrick Denham, the man who eventually brings Belfort down. A straight arrow but not a prig, Denham is the moral center of the film, somebody who represents the antithesis of Belfort: someone interested in public service and honesty, rather than self-indulgence and quick wealth.

Cristin Milioti as Teresa, Belfort’s first wife, is played with authenticity. Margot Robbie as trophy wife Naomi Lapaglia falls into stereotype: floozy big-busted blonde gold-digger.

Overall, this is a very good film, with generally strong performances, impressive camera work and a fine score. What keeps it from being Scorsese’s master work  is its length: two hours and 59 minutes.

Granted, this is a complex story and can’t be trimmed down to the length of an afternoon TV special. But Scorsese and editor Thelma Schoonmaker should have cast a more critical eye on the excess. How many aerial shots of naked perfect female bodies do you really need? Is it necessary to include a lengthy conference room discussion of the protocol of competitive dwarf-throwing?

Thirty to 45 minutes could have been cut without reducing the impact. If the real Wolf’s life story was too much of a bad thing, this film is the mirror image: too much of a good thing.

“The Wolf of Wall Street” is rated R for tons of nudity, sex, profanity and drug use and abuse.

Sarah’s score: B+.

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