It's loud, it's brash, it's unapologetic and it's ruthlessly entertaining. The Wolf of Wall Street sees Martin Scorsese in top, scathing form as he takes on greed, excess and the American Dream-turned bad in this first class black comedy that, surprisingly, justifies the three-hour running time.
Leonardo DiCaprio reunites with Scorsese for the fifth time as he plays real-life self-made millionaire and playboy Jordan Belfort, who made a fortune as a stockbroker in the late 80s and 90s. Belfort came from middle-class Queens beginnings, but gets a taste for big money, and the lifestyle that comes with it, under the tutelage of a leading Wall Street broker, played with scene-stealing panache by Matthew McConaughey. Drugs and prostitutes are the name of the game, Belfort soon discovers, but when the firm he is working for crashes on Black Monday, he has no way to pay the rent.
It's not long before he's knocking on the door of a Long Island boiler room which deals in penny stocks, selling worthless shares to working class citizens for a 50% commission. Here his cold-blooded nature comes to the fore, and he begins to rake in the money. But he's not content with this low-level deception, and sets up his own company under a mock-WASP name – Stratton Oakment – with a hotchpotch of his old friends, mainly marijuana dealers. The idea is to fool an altogether more lucrative bunch – the highest 1% of earners in the country.
As the dollars begin to flood in, he upgrades his dependable hairdresser wife for Brooklyn blonde bombshell Naomi (Margot Robbie) – who he nicknames 'The Duchess' – and embarks on a lifestyle characterised by mounds of cocaine, endless prostitutes, wads of cash and yachts. Of course, his devious, money-making ways soon come to the attention of the FBI, and agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) is hot on his tail, a fact that seems to evade Belfort's inflated ego.
Belfort's meteoric rise and dramatic fall is recounted in wild, energetic detail, as he and his cronies snort and screw their way to spiralling material highs while trying to keep the Feds off their backs.
Screenwriter Terence Winter (The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire) has delivered a razor-sharp script, based on Belfort's memoirs, which perfectly ekes out laughs from the protagonists' high jinks.
The Wolf of Wall Street has been criticised for seemingly glorifying the behaviour of Belfort and his gang, but this criticism rings hollow. The glamorous, morally bankrupt lifestyles fed by the ill-gotten gains of these Wall Street pretenders is not shown without judgement, and the underlying message is not a positive one.
Scorsese has delivered an exhilarating, exuberant, larger-than-life take on Belfort's hedonistic misdoings. Although the film could be criticised for being a bit indulgent at times, it is in the daringly protracted scenes that some of the best comedy emerges, such as a drugged-up Belfort struggling to reach his white Lamborghini from his local country club.
DiCaprio tears up the screen in the central role, roaring and raging his way from an eager, naïve young upstart, to a charming, snake-tongued salesman, to a paralytic burnout, drooling at the mouth. Jonah Hill is excellent as his right-hand man Donnie Azoff, getting most of the laughs with his sarcastic one-liners.
The Wolf of Wall Street is a debauched, infectious cinematic experience that dredges up some interesting questions about the culture of excess, greed and materialism that leads to moral oblivion.