The Wolf of Wall Street opens with a montage of such debauchery, it’s appalling and fascinating at the same time. Leonardo DiCaprio, playing real-life stockbroker-scamster Jordan Belfort, tosses midgets across his office floor, crash-lands a helicopter while stoned out of his mind, and snorts cocaine off a hooker’s ass. All this in the first five minutes. The film carries on, much in the same vein, for three hours.
Based on Belfort’s own memoir about getting insanely rich from conning investors, The Wolf of Wall Street, directed by Martin Scorsese, is a delirious, manic black comedy about an amoral, but magnetic protagonist so consumed by greed that he makes Gordon Gekko look like the Pope in comparison.
Belfort starts out as a young man who gets a job as a stockbroker, then loses his job during the 1987 market crash. He starts his own firm, having figured out a way to make big bucks by selling worthless penny stocks. He turns out to be such a smooth seller that in no time he and his merry band of no-gooders (led by a terrific Jonah Hill as his bucktoothed sidekick Donie Azoff) have more money than they know what to do with. So they blow it on hookers, booze, and ridiculous quantities of drugs. Before long Belfort and his hedonistic lifestyle catch the eye of a hungry FBI agent (Kyle Chandler) who becomes determined to take him down.
Scorsese, who is no stranger to stories about men behaving badly, keeps the pace brisk and the proceedings outrageous. There is a frantic energy to the movie until the very end, althoughscene after scene of wild orgies and drug-fueled hazes begin to get repetitive after a point. It’s DiCaprio’s top-notch portrayal of this abhorrent, but compelling market wiz that never lets your interest in the movie wane. He offers a solid, brave performance that reaches a fever pitch each time Belfort takes the mike to motivate his team. The actor also gets a terrific opportunity to show off his comic chops in one of the film’s most memorable scenes in which he slithers and crawls in a party –drug-induced stupor from a country club to his Ferrari and proceeds to drive home.
In smaller roles, Matthew McConaughey as Belfort’s unscrupulous mentor, chews up the scenery in a crackling restaurant scene, while Margot Robbie gets some well-deserved laughs as Belfort’s trophy wife.
The Wolf of Wall Street is consistently engaging, but is it meant to celebrate this reckless pursuit of wealth, or serve as a cautionary tale against it? That’s for each one of us to decide. To give credit to Scorsese, he’s made a film that works on more than one level, and a film that inspires debate. I’m going with four out of five for The Wolf of Wall Street. In their fifth collaboration, Scorsese and DiCaprio once again do their best work together.
Rating: 4 / 5