A kind of perverted take on the rags-to-riches genre Martin Scorsese’s fable of stock broker in training turned Wall Street mogul Jordan Belfort is another in a string of recent films to take a dump all over the idealised ‘American dream’ concept. As Belfort takes his unorthodox and speedy route to the top of the pile his moral and ethical seams tear asunder, his very stuffing slowly leaching out in front of him. The Wolf of Wall Street may follow a typically gritty Scorsesian rise-and-fall arc but unlike his many other ‘New York Stories’ it is buoyed by a thick vein of humour snaking right through the middle. Indeed, I never expected to laugh half so much in a Scorsese feature, and yet the laughs come hard and fast across the film’s three hour run-time. This unexpected levity will be well appreciated by many (myself included) as the film’s titular Wolf and his debauched crew of Wall Street wannabes are often a difficult dish to swallow. In place of mafioso Scorsese staples we have criminals of a less violent but no less distasteful ilk. The film is full to the brim of the most ridiculous and crass displays of wealth and bad behaviour. When snorting crack from between a hooker’s arse cheeks seems run-of-the-mill you know things are messed up. In fact there is so much cocaine being consumed and daylight prostitution being engaged that it’s hard to believe these guys managed to make the money they apparently did. It was a master stroke in casting to bring Jonah Hill into the fray as he makes hay with the low down dirty humour (think Superbad meets Jackass) in Terence Boardwalk Empire Winter’s screenplay and justifiably pulls the laughs. DiCaprio begins the film with a middling performance of the hopeful young ‘American dreamer’ but really finds his stride as Belfort transitions into something more jaded and self destructive. He even pulls out Cleese-worthy scene of physical comedy involving a drug addled crawl to safety. Again, I’d not have imagined a Hill and DiCaprio comic pairing but there you have it!
That Wolf is well written, well acted, and well produced is undeniable; Scorsese knows his craft and this outing is no exception. Whether the film succeeds at its critique of the materially focused American dream and of the kind of behaviour that saw the global economy near collapse—a ‘beyond the law’ status belonging to such names as ‘Goldman Sachs’ is directly referenced in the dialogue—is debatable. The somewhat two-handed ending and knowing that this film is based on the ‘memoirs’ of the central character—including a cameo from the actual Jordan Belfort—makes the events depicted even more difficult to take. And so the experience of watching Wolf is a double-edged sword: periods a ethical hard slog lifted by a sound production of perfectly executed mirth.
Rating: R18 Drug use, sex scenes & offensive language.