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'The Wolf of Wall Street,' a Scorsese epic of American greed

By Patricia Reaney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese plumbs the depths of the debauched, hedonistic lifestyle of a 1990s convicted stock swindler and the world of high finance in "The Wolf of Wall Street," a cautionary tale about excess, lust and greed.

The film, which opens in U.S. theaters on Christmas Day, is based on the memoir of disgraced stockbroker Jordan Belfort, who made a fortune by defrauding clients and spent it on expensive cars, homes, a yacht, hookers, orgies and all the alcohol and drugs he could consume.

Scorsese, the 71-year-old Academy Award winning director of 2006's "The Departed," strays from the cinematic turf of mobsters to focus on a different type of crook in the film that magazine Screen International described as "'Goodfellas' without the guns."

"I'm interested in people - some people who are basically good but do bad things," Scorsese said.

"The Wolf of Wall Street" reunites Scorsese with triple Oscar nominee Leonardo DiCaprio, who worked with him on "The Departed," "The Aviator" and "Shutter Island."

DiCaprio, 39, read Belfort's no-holds barred, unapologetic book about six years ago and knew he had to portray the cocaine-snorting, fast-talking financial bad boy on the big screen, and had Scorsese in mind to direct.

"I felt his biography was a reflection of everything that is wrong in today's society. This hedonistic lifestyle, this time period in Wall Street's history where Jordan basically gave in to every carnal indulgence possible and was obsessed with greed and obsessed with himself essentially," he said.

The three-hour, R-rated film earned a Golden Globe nomination for best movie in a musical or comedy and a best actor nod for DiCaprio, generating speculation of more to come when the Oscar nominations are announced on January 16.

Terence Winter also picked up the National Board of Review award for best adapted screenplay for transforming Belfort's book to the screen.

"I couldn't believe that what I was reading was a true story about someone who is actually alive at the end of it," Winter said.

EMULATING GORDON GEKKO

The film charts the rise of the middle-class, dental-school dropout from his introduction to the free-wheeling world of Wall Street and the rise of his company during the bull market of the '90s with all of its excesses, to his arrest and imprisonment for securities fraud and money laundering.

With rousing speeches, Belfort fired up his employees to cold call investors to sell stocks in a scheme that would line their own pockets, not their clients'.

"These weren't the fat cats destroying our economy. These were the street urchins. These were the guys from the underworld that were trying to create a little island and emulate Gordon Gekko," said DiCaprio, of the fictional character played by Michael Douglas in the 1987 film "Wall Street."

Jonah Hill, an Oscar nominee for "Moneyball," plays Donnie Azoff, Belfort's uncouth, loyal partner in depravity and crime who helps organize a dwarf-throwing competition in the office.

Rob Reiner, normally behind the camera, takes on his first acting role in a decade as Belfort's father. Kyle Chandler, last seen in "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Argo," is the incorruptible FBI agent who brings Belfort down, and Australian actress Margot Robbie ("About Time") is his second wife Naomi.

Matthew McConaughey, a Golden Globe nominee for this year's "Dallas Buyers Club," appears as an early mentor, fond of cocaine and multiple-Martini lunches, and French actor Jean Dujardin, 2012's best actor Oscar winner for "The Artist," is a suave Swiss banker.

But the film belongs to DiCaprio. From his chest-pumping, electrifying speeches to his hilarious turn slithering across a driveway and into his sports car while out of his mind on Quaaludes, he dominates the screen.

"DiCaprio doesn't just play this part; he inhales it, along with everything else that goes up Belfort's nose and into his bloodstream," the trade magazine Variety said.

(Editing by Mary Milliken and Vicki Allen)

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