Film review | Wolves and sheep alike will flock to see this one

Once upon time, a wide-eyed young man made his way to the Big Apple and took the biggest bite he could. Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) was a self-made man who quickly figured out that he’d never get rich by working for someone else. Setting up his own stock-brokering firm, Stratton Oakmont, he set about turning a group of no-hopers into a crack sales team, offloading overpriced shares in crummy companies and pocketing giant commissions.

Private jets, ‘blue chip’ prostitutes and an insatiable drug addiction soon followed – here was a real-life Gordon Gekko. Belfort’s memoirs were adapted into a screenplay by Sopranos scribe and Boardwalk Empire creator, Terence Winter.

DiCaprio has never been better: he dances through this film, the screen barely able to contain the energy that bursts from him at every frame. He evokes the earlier work of an untamed Jack Nicholson. What’s surprising is just how adept a comedy actor he is: particularly physically.  In one scene he’s required to move from a hotel lobby to his Ferrari, parked just outside. A considerable amount of drugs prevent him from achieving this in the conventional manner and so we’re treated to a display that would make Mr Bean blush.

Jonah Hill (replacing Joe Pesci), as the company’s co-founder, ups the darkly comic ante, but the laughs don’t come for free. The fact is, the joke’s on us. 

There’s already been plenty of controversy, with accusations of misogyny and the endorsement of Belfort’s lifestyle. Without spoiling anything, I can say that while there are scenes of excessive drug-taking, yacht sailing and sex parties, many are shown in a debauched light that surpasses even Hieronymus Bosch in their hellish depictions. Furthermore, we need to witness the allure of both the man and his lifestyle to understand his near deification by those who worked for him.

You will be hard pressed to find a clearer or more concise criticism of the lunacy of the stock market and the observation that it is a system that facilitates the existence of greed junkies like Belfort. It even favours them – that’s where the real point lies.

Our culture idolises money. We live in a society driven by greed, where too many would follow the same path – in fact we see Belfort as he is today, a motivational speaker preaching to rooms full of wannabes who dream of living the same life he’s had. Is it the wolf that is to blame for being wolfish, or the sheep that follow and the system that enables him to exist? Scorsese lets us decide, but clearly we are all potentially Jordan Belfort.

Meanwhile, the real headline here is “Scorsese is BACK” – with subject matter that fits him like a glove. The similarities in form to his endlessly aped Goodfellas are striking. I’m thinking mainly of Belfort’s regular machine-gun monologues, made on the move, directly to camera – one that is just as adrenalised as the coked-up characters it observes. Certainly DiCaprio sounds uncannily similar to Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill. This only serves to highlight the absence of any distinction between those gangsters and these stock brokers. 

So sure, as with 2006’s The Departed, this is Scorsese shamelessly pulling a Scorsese, but for the first time in far too long, he’s working with real purpose from a script deserving of his monumental talent. Part After Hours, part Last Temptation Of Christ and Goodfellas to its very bones, this is Scorsese’s best since 1995’s Casino. Savour the greed, guilt-free.

The Wolf of Wall Street (15)

Dir: Martin Scorsese; US crime, 2013, 180 mins; Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jean Dujardin, Joanna Lumley
Playing Nationwide
Premiered Jan 9

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