Directed by Martin Scorsese
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler, Jon Bernthal, Matthew McConaughy
Martin Scorsese once again demonstrates to all and sundry How It’s Done in this adaptation of Jordan Belfort’s rags-to-riches-to-slightly-less-riches autobiography.
Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio in fine, fearless form) wants one thing in life: to be rich. The film charts his rise through the convoluted world of Wall Street where, as Matthew McConaughy’s jaded, coke-snorting veteran broker tells us, no one knows anything and your only goal is to move money from your clients’ pockets to yours. Assembling a cadre of money-mad sales dogs – including Jonah Hill’s Donnie Azoff, one of the most indelible cinematic creations in recent memory – Belfort builds a financial empire based on selling penny stocks – near-worthless shares in tiny start-up companies – to workaday stiffs desperate to get rich quick.
The truly ludicrous amount of money that Belfort gathers is accompanied by excesses and debauchery well beyond the usual – dwarf-tossing and hooker-dallying are the least of his indulgences – and also the attentions of FBI Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler), who is determined to bring Belfort and his crew down.
We’ve seen this pattern before. Hell, we’ve seen it in previous Scorsese films. The difference here is the clear contempt that Scorsese and his screenwriter, Terrence Winter, have for their characters. Sure, we’re drawn into a world of incredible opulence and excess, where $26,000 lunches are the norm, private jets are as common as chauffeured cars and drugs and booze are on tap, but at the centre of this world of wealth are Belfort and his cronies, one of the biggest collections of unctuous, immature, crass and deluded losers as ever assembled. Sure, the film says, you can have all this, but the price is you to have to be one of these guys, and who in their right mind wants that?
Many people, the film goes out of its way to point out. While it’s doubtful that Jordan Belfort will become a cultural icon on par with the namechecked Gordon Gekko (please, God, let me be right about that), the wealth-without-work dream is a tasty one. The thing to keep in mind is that the people who fall for it are Belfort’s victims, not his peers. We don’t spend any time with regular people who have lost their livelihoods because of Belfort’s misdeeds, but we don’t have to – anyone who lived through the last handful of years knows the score.
If all that sounds a bit on the heavy side, don’t sweat it – Scorsese’s verve and energy carry the movie along at a rapid clip, even though it clocks in at a hair under three hours. While Wolf stands as a furious indictment of greed in general and sales culture in particular, it’s also flat-out hilarious – DiCaprio deserves an Oscar for the Quaaludes scene alone. Funny and furious in equal measure, this is one of Scorsese’s finest. The old maestro better rethink his mooted retirement plans – we definitely need more cinema like this.