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

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living