Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie
Running time: 180 minutes
It takes two and a half hours, for Jordan Belfort, the titular “Wolf of Wall Street” played by Leonardo DiCaprio, to arrive at his epiphany moment: Belfort’s increasingly conspicuous illegal activities have reached a point where he has to either stand down from his position as manager of his company, Stratton Oakmont, or face the wrath of the FBI.
Talking about one of his first employees, now resplendent in an Armani suit, and hearing the applause of his stockbrokers, The Wolf turns to the camera and snarls “Fuck it, I’m not leaving. The show goes on!” His greed, selfishness and pride are simply too strong to admit defeat to “a man who rides the subway.” This is the essence of The Wolf of Wall Street.
For better or for worse, director Martin Scorsese refuses to pull punches when it comes to his depiction of the madness and excess of late 80s and early 90s Wall Street.
From the very beginning the audience is peppered with coarse language, midget dart throwing, and private jet orgies rarely seen outside of the darkest depths of the internet. If you’ve always dreamed of watching a prostitute extract a lit candle from Leonardo DiCaprio’s ass, then The Wolf of Wall Street is your film.
An excellent cast of supporting characters ensures that Terence Winter’s script really comes to life, despite the 179 minutes running time.
Though DiCaprio is excellent as Jordan Belfort, it is arguably Jonah Hill’s depiction of Donnie Azoff, Belfort’s buffoonish right hand man, who steals the show. Every scene in which Azoff featured left the audience guffawing, providing the comic relief which was increasingly appreciated during the film’s darker second half.
Kyle Chandler deserves a special mention too. Playing FBI Agent Patrick Denham, Chandler is the antithesis of Jordan Belfort. His disgust at the lifestyle of the man he is tasked with hunting down throughout the film is one of the rare voices of moderation, in a film where any behaviour less than excessive is seen as unacceptable.
A healthy chunk of the film’s enormous $100 million budget has been used to successfully create a late 80s setting where money, though being the sole concern of every single character in the film, is also shown to be meaningless at the same time.
We see priceless Lamborghinis smashed beyond recognition, and superyachts disappear into the ocean without even warranting a comment from Belfort. No doubt earning $1 million a week by the age of 26 goes some way to softening the blow of these material losses.
The distinct lack of morality throughout the film, both in terms of the money on display, but also in terms of retribution for Belfort, will divide the opinions of audiences. No lessons are learnt, and some of Belfort’s most morally abhorrent actions towards the end of the film, go completely unpunished. Though this amoral conclusion is the same as that of the book, it may lead to some viewers seeing The Wolf of Wall Street as nothing more than a love story to unencumbered capitalism. The lasting impression I had after reading The Wolf of Wall Street, was that it was truly better than fiction. So lewd were the acts, so mad were the parties, the yachts and the drug abuse that it simply could not have been made up.
By embracing the source material and delivering a totally unsanitized version of it, Martin Scorsese has delivered a smash hit, almost as enjoyable as Goodfellas or Casino. And that is very high praise indeed.