Review: 'Wolf of Wall Street' a 3-hour bacchanal of sex and drugs

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Posted: Thursday, December 26, 2013 12:00 am

Future archaeologists, digging through the digital and physical rubble of our long-gone civilization in search of reasons for its collapse, will be greatly helped if they unearth a file containing "The Wolf of Wall Street," Martin Scorsese's three-hour bacchanal of sex, drugs and conspicuous consumption. Then as now, the movie is likely to be the subject of intense scholarly debate: Does it offer a sustained and compelling diagnosis of the terminal pathology that afflicts us, or is it an especially florid symptom of the disease?

From its opening sequence -- a quick, nasty, unapologetic tour through its main character's vices and compulsions, during which he crash-lands a helicopter on the grounds of his Long Island estate and (not simultaneously) shares cocaine with a call girl in an anatomically creative manner -- to its raw, chaotic finish, "The Wolf of Wall Street" hums with vulgar, voyeuristic energy. It has been awhile since Scorsese has thrown himself into filmmaking with this kind of exuberance. "Goodfellas," a sprawling inquiry into how some men do business, is an obvious precedent, and so is "Mean Streets," an intensive study of how some men get into trouble. Even the occasional lapses of filmmaking technique (scenes that drag on too long, shots that don't match, noticeable continuity glitches) feel like signs of life. This movie may tire you out with its hammering, swaggering excess, but it is never less than wide-awake.

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