The Wolf of Wall Street isn't done. That's the thing that has to be cleared out before we can do anything else at all with it. It might very well be a film that Martin Scorsese can live with for the rest of his life without ever considering for a minute that he and editor Thelma Schoonmaker need to revisit it for a home video re-edit somewhere down the road, and in that sense can be described as "finished"; but it's not done. There are several scenes, particularly in the first of its three hours, that rank among the worst in Schoonmaker's massively successful career, scenes that have been "assembled" but not really finessed all that much: beats go on for too long or are snipped off, continuity isn't even a tertiary concern, the sound editing is at war with the visual editing rather than in concert with it.

It's not hard to encounter the idea that the draggletail pacing of individual scenes, many of which go on for too long and start to lose the thread about halfway or two-thirds through, is reflective of the main characters' life driven by money, drugs, and sex, in that order, until he reaches a point where nonstop hedonism is more about keeping himself from falling behind rather than actually receiving pleasure. And this is a tempting, appealling reading, except it fails to account for how some of the worst-assembled scenes occur before he ever even becomes a coked-out trainwreck of a human being. It's fun, I totally understand, to play Apologise for the Auteur, but sometimes a locked-in release date is too much, and Scorsese and Schoonmaker just couldn't make it happen with this time.

That being said, the film is still a pretty solid and enjoyable watch, and an exemplary character study, thanks in huge part to Leonardo DiCaprio, in the best work he's done in his now five collaborations with Scorsese, and his strongest performance overall since Catch Me If You Can in 2002. It's quite a dizzy and demented tightrope the actor must walk: first to take a character who is, on the page, totally irredeemable and disgusting in every detail of his behavior, and make him so immensely appealing and charismatic that we never doubt for a second why so many people would look up to him as a leader and role model, nor do we doubt the infectious enthusiasm he has for his overclocked lifestyle; then, having done this, he must also make that charisma seem hollow and trivial, so that the film's indictment of the lifestyle which the character spends so much time praising can actually stick. The successful performance of real-life stock fraudster Jordan Belfort (whose business model and indictment inspired the 2000 movie Boiler Room, as well) is the movie, to a certain degree: the emphasis on moment-by-moment incident over plot tends to make the film more about Belfort's personality and how it was externalised in the activities of Stratton Oakmont, the brokerage firm he founded. DiCaprio puts over his subject's character with unbelievable verve and precision, perfectly capturing the manic glee of that kind of lifestyle in a way that's both exciting and offensive.

So at the very least, The Wolf of Wall Street goes down easily, though one doesn't exactly forget about its punishing running time (it barely edges out Casino as Scorsese's longest film), which it absolutely does not come remotely close to earning. It is, anyway, crammed full of incidents, and tricked out with a pretty solid cast who do terrific work in delivering the lines in Terence Winter's screenplay with easy, off-the-cuff casualness (Jonah Hill, with readily the largest part after DiCaprio, makes the biggest impression, though my favorite small performance was probably Jean Dujardin as a shady Swiss banker), and these things both serve to make it a largely pleasurable, high-spirited exercise in watching debauchery and enjoying it, but also enjoying the people involved getting their comeuppance. It isn't an especially fangs-bared evisceration of the excesses of American financial shenanigans, but there's enough of that to keep the film from being just smutty froth.

And oh, how smutty and frothy it is: it is a vulgar, sex-addled film, though virtually always in ways that strive to further the comedy, rather than serve any other purpose. Indeed, The Wolf of Wall Street is primarily a can-you-believe-this? comedy more than it's ever a biopic or critical study or anything, and it frequently becomes difficult to tell if it's condemning or celebrating Belfort's lifestyle, or if it cares which of the two it's doing. Which maybe weakens it a little bit; I won't pretend that it's entirely to my own tastes, but it's funny far more than it's not, and that has to count for something.

It is also flabby, however, and this hurts it in all possible ways: it's less focused, less insightful, less funny, less entertaining, than a more streamlined effort would have been. The shaggy editing is absolutely the biggest problem, but there other things: the redundant scenes, the scenes that are redundant in and off themselves, the dodgy music cues (for a director noted for the excellence of his soundtracks, Scorsese really dropped the ball on this one: a lazy and clichรฉd use of "ร‡a plane pour moi", grating covers of "Mrs. Robinson" and "Sloop John B"), the inconsistent use of cinematic flourishes, which can be as giddy as the battle of voiceovers between Belfort and that Swiss banker, only to give way to fifteen straight minutes of conversations in medium shots. The two most inspired moments in the film - a Quaalude-suffused day preparing for a trip to Geneva, and a scene where Belfort attempts to navigate his way home as his body shuts down on him completely - are both such obvious retreads of the sublime "Sunday, May 11th, 1980" sequence from Goodfellas that it's hard to respond to either of them fully on their own terms.

From any other director, would this exact same movie seem better? Perhaps. But from any other director, this movie wouldn't necessarily have been released in such an indulgent, rough shape. There's a lot of fun to be had, and DiCaprio single-handedly makes it worth the significant time commitment, but this is not filmmaking at the level of creativity and panache of the best Scorsese, even by the somewhat muted standards of his 21st Century work. There might not be a masterpiece-level Wolf of Wall Street to be edited and cleaned up out of this footage, but there's definitely a better one, even if the film in its present film is too ebullient to remotely qualify as "bad".