With: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Kyle Chandler
Runtime: 180 minutes
HAVING played two emperors of overindulgence in the past year, first Jay Gatsby and now a Wall Street stockbroker up to his oxters in cocaine and hookers, I'd like to think Leonardo DiCaprio was sitting at home right now perusing pamphlets on Trappist monasteries and eating gruel. Then again, perhaps not. No-one having this much fun at work is thinking about a career change.
Never mind DiCaprio. The question is, will you too have a blast watching this three-hour, excess-all-areas, expletive-strewn biopic of a spoilt brat whose lifestyle made the last days of the Roman Empire look like a parent-teacher meeting?
Not that everyone has appreciated the joke behind Martin Scorsese's picture, or they have seen the joke and are not amused. There was much tutting on the film's US release that it was gratuitously overblown, overlong, and not over-keen in condemning the scummy adventures of Jordan Belfort, the real-life Wolf of Wall Street, as labelled by Forbes magazine.
It is certainly long and repetitive. So much must have been spent on baking soda (to double as cocaine), dwarves (to throw) and sharp suits that there was no money left over to buy anyone a watch. As for appearing to celebrate rather than condemn Belfort and his ilk, that is a trickier one. The film is based on Belfort's memoir, a toilet paper effort if ever there was one, and he makes a brief appearance in the movie. From this we can assume that he was not exactly hostile to the portrait.
On the whole, though, I would say Scorsese's no holds barred tone is just about right. As you may have noticed, the so-called masters of the universe who brought about a global recession did not exactly slink off into the sunset and die of shame. Bailed out by the taxpayer, they got away with the greatest rock and roll swindle of all. If there is any message to be taken away from The Wolf of Wall Street, it is that those financial mobsters who exploited the system, and investors' greed, are not likely to go away. The system breeds them. The party goes on, albeit at a more muted volume.
When first we meet Belfort (DiCaprio) he is 26 years old and making $46 million a year. Scorsese, working from a firecracker of a script by Terence Winter (Boardwalk Empire, The Sopranos), zips back to the start of the young buck's days on Wall Street. His mentor (Matthew McConaughey) puts the youngster straight about the business. Stockbroking is about making money - for yourself. If the client benefits, that's just a bonus. Having introduced Belfort to one drug, making money, he adds a few more for good measure.
From there we stay with Belfort through some early lows and many highs. As he branches out on his own and starts his own brokerage firm, complete with Jonah Hill as his deputy, Belfort finds the money pouring in. Is it all legal and ethical? What do you think? He has started out selling penny stocks to small investors, "garbage to garbage men" on huge commissions. The same magazine profile that dubbed him the Wolf of Wall Street calls him a "twisted Robin Hood" taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich (himself and his staff). The offices will get bigger, the clients richer, but Belfort will always be the guy coming out on top.
Scorsese, DiCaprio and Hill go to town with the excess. You can either laugh or feel disgusted, or perhaps do both at the same time. This is a man's world, where women are wives or hookers, or on the odd occasion hard-faced brokers. It is noticeable that, a few scenes aside, it is the women doing the heavy lifting when it comes to the sex and nude scenes. The language, too, could strip paint from a battleship. The F-bomb count has been put at 506, making it, in the words of one newspaper, "the most obscene movie of all time".
But this is also Scorsese's world, a wildly enjoyable three-hour romp through his cinematic concerns, tropes and greatest hits. Check out those nods to Goodfellas, The Departed, Casino, The Aviator, Boardwalk Empire, even Mean Streets and the Gangs of New York (was there ever a meaner street than Wall Street?).
Consider his chewing over of what America is, and where it is heading. After that comes his beloved music. From Bo Diddley to Billy Joel, every track is a winner.
For all that it is hopelessly baggy in parts - some scenes play as though the camera was simply pointed in direction of the actors and left running while everyone else went off for lunch - I cannot honestly say I was bored. Appalled, intrigued, amused, sickened, but never bored. Scorsese and DiCaprio have now made five films together, and this is on a par with The Departed as their finest collaboration. Scorsese supplies the landscape and DiCaprio blows through the picture like a hurricane. It is quite the sight to behold. One staggers away from the experience feeling a little older, none the wiser, but hugely entertained.