“The Wolf Of Wall Street” is a big, ballsy movie. It’s loud, brash and gets right in your face. It’s obscene, profane and gratuitous in every possible way and might just be the best film I’ve seen in the past twelve months. Incredibly, it’s based on a true story: the memoirs of the real Jordan Belfort, a stockbroker who took the idea of a penny stock boiler room and elevated it to an art form.
Fresh from career-stalling market crash of Black Monday, newly qualified, suddenly unemployed stockbroker Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) takes a job with a small-time brokerage in Long Island. He quickly rises to the top of the pile of the two-bit outfit and strikes out on his own, with his neighbour and protégé Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill). Gathering together an unlikely band of unrefined but experienced salesmen, they found Stratton Oakmont and set their sights on fleecing the “top 1%” by subverting the techniques and sales approaches of the penny stock market.
The result is corporate malfeasance by way of Caligulan hedonism and, like all the greedy young stockbrokers who come flocking to Stratton Oakmont following a Forbes exposé, you’ll willingly dive headlong into the sex, drugs and booze-fuelled adrenalin rush with nary a thought for the victims whose money pours through the doors of Belfort’s burgeoning empire. “The Wolf Of Wall Street” utterly rejects any sense of a moral framework and in doing so challenges the audience’s sense of morality in the most cunning and insidious way. If you spare more than a passing thought for the investors who are getting ripped off by Belfort’s pump ‘n’ dump schemes then you’re a better person than many, including me. My guess is you’ll get so caught up in the outrageous, decadent whirlwind of the character’s lives that you’ll buy into the idea that consequences are something you only have to deal with if you sober up. This film will screw with your moral compass so badly that I doubt you’ll ever be cheering for the forces of law and order to catch up with our crazy band of stoned, sex addict stockbrokers. No, you’ll be cheering Belfort on as he bestrides the stock market like some amoral Olympian demigod. And did I mention this film is funny? Like, laugh out loud funny. Sure, the humour is of the blackest hue, but it keeps on coming thick and fast, the next moment more shocking and hilarious than the last.
The cast are firing on all cylinders here, with DiCaprio again proving that he is probably the most charismatic actor in Hollywood right now. He anchors and holds the film for the full three hours, demanding and rewarding your attention while still allowing room for the film’s colourful cast to share the spotlight in a rich ensemble. Jonah Hill is delightfully unhinged as the avaricious and pugnacious Donnie and the two of them share one of the funniest fight scenes ever committed to film as Donnie and Jordan throw down while off their face on super-strength Quaaludes. ‘Neighbours’ alum Margot Robbie provides sass and sensuality (and a great deal of nudity) as Belfort’s second wife while Kyle Chandler has the thankless role of being the one good guy whose job it is to bring the party to an end as bitter FBI Agent Patrick Denham. Joanna Lumley and Jean Dujardin pop in for cameos to lend a bit of class to the sordid shenanigans.
Scorsese is on scintillating form here, and the cinematography is breathtakingly clever. Cunning use of different lenses, camera angles and shooting styles underline and mirror Belfort’s state of mind and varying levels of sobriety. The script uses the three-hour running time with wit and patience, allowing wonderful scenes room to breathe and play out rather than compacting or cutting them all together to meet a shorter running time. Particular standouts are Belfort’s initial lunch with his first boss Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) and a later discussion between Belfort and his wistful father (Rob Reiner) about the grooming habits of high-class hookers.
Of course, the script has attracted its fair share of controversy due to the graphic and near-constant drug-taking, nudity and profanity. Famously, “The Wolf Of Wall Street” now holds the record for the feature film featuring the most uses of the word ‘fuck’, at a staggering 569 times (although in all honesty, many of these are uttered by background characters as part of the general ambience of the film – hah I love the idea of a film whose ambience is supported by the utterance of the word ‘fuck’ an average of over three times a minute!). The sex, drugs and swearing never feel wanton though and everything works to support and drive the story forward into the spiral of depravity and indulgence which eventually catches up with Belfort as his vanity pushes him into acts of self-destructive, hubristic madness.
After a madcap three hours, the final shot of the film comes as the first real jolt of reality, reminding you of the victims, not just of Stratton Oakmont’s wheeling and dealing, but the vast auditorium of suckers, all too ready to believe in the next ‘get rich quick’ scheme, a sneaky sucker punch to herald the moral hangover you deserve for enjoying this degenerate feast.
Although I suspect it’ll prove too spicy for the Academy, “The Wolf Of Wall Street” should be a strong contender for the Best Picture Oscar, and possibly the only serious rival to “12 Years A Slave”. It’s a hard-drinking, coke-snorting, awesome piece of filmmaking. In short, it’s a fucking masterpiece.