The Wolf of Wall Street, film review: 'A lurid, profanity bespattered movie'

4.00

Scorsese's lurid account of white-collar excess is a rake’s progress on steroids

After his foray into kids’ movie fantasy in Hugo (2011), Martin Scorsese is back with a lurid, profanity bespattered film that is very much for adults only – and may even take some of them aback. The Wolf of Wall Street, which had its premiere in America on Tuesday night, opens with scenes of dwarf throwing at an office party. From there, it’s quickly on to the hookers, naked marching bands and the booze, cocaine and Quaalude binges.

Based on disgraced stockbroker Jordan Belfort’s self-serving and utterly unapologetic memoir, this is a contemporary rake’s progress. It boasts an outstanding performance from Leonardo DiCaprio, who is both master of ceremonies (often speaking directly to camera or narrating his own life in a Goodfellas-style voice-over) and, inevitably, the movie’s biggest fall guy. DiCaprio’s achievement is to give an emotional depth to a character who is so sleazy and so superficial.

The title may suggest that we’re back in the world of Gordon Gekko and Bonfire of the Vanities. That isn’t actually the case. Apart from some early scenes, in which young Jordan is taken in hand by his engagingly amoral boss Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), very little of the film is set on Wall Street. Most of the action unfolds in the non-descript part of Long Island where Belfort sets up his “pump and dump” brokerage Stratton Oakmont.

Belfort’s recruits aren’t Wasp bankers. They’re down-at-heel blue-collar types who, like Belfort himself, relish the chance to live their own twisted version of the American Dream. Belfort’s second in command, the slobbish, belligerent Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), epitomises the company ethos. In one scene, Donnie reprimands an employee by swallowing the man’s goldfish.

The screenplay by Terence Winter (one of the creators of Boardwalk Empire) isn’t remotely interested in the plight of the small-time investors who lost their life savings because of Stratton Oakmont. Scorsese is observing, not preaching. As he shows, earning huge amounts has a transformative, Jekyll and Hyde-like effect on Belfort’s employees. Belfort describes the process of making cash quickly as being like “mainlining adrenaline.” His wife’s aunt (an Ab Fab-style cameo from Joanna Lumley) tells him, perceptively, that money is getting the better of him…among “other substances”.

With its prowling camera work, R&B music, stylised slow-motion sequences, expletive-filled dialogue and highly inventive use of voice-over, The Wolf of Wall Street is directed with all the vim and vigour you would expect from Scorsese. The humour here is often very bawdy indeed – you get the sense that Scorsese prepared for the film by boning up on Porky’s, Animal House and Roy “Chubby” Brown videos. It’s refreshing, if a little surprising, to see such a distinguished director taking such a crude and irreverent approach.

Gradually, it dawns on you that the protagonists here aren’t big-time gangsters. They’re white-collar office workers who sell stocks over the phone. You can only glamorise such characters so far. Their infantile behaviour is made painfully obvious in one of the film’s very best sequences, in which Belfort is reduced to crawling like a baby after popping too many Quaaludes.

DiCaprio captures brilliantly the pathetic, self-delusional side of the character as well as his flamboyance.

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen