Writer: Terence Winter
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jean Dujardin, Joanna Lumley, Margot Robbie, Cristin Milioti
Running time: 180mins
The lowdown: Martin Scorsese once again proves he’s Hollywood’s most dazzling movie magician with a drug and sex fuelled cautionary tale of corporate greed that is a blast to watch but you wouldn’t want to live there. DiCaprio delivers an astonishing, vanity-free performance as grade-A scumbag Jordan Belfort, a stockbroker who makes Gordon Gekko look like Robin Hood. Jonah Hill is on memorable form as Belfort’s right-hand douchebag, but this is Scorsese and DiCaprio’s show and it’s their finest collaboration to date: a five-star, three hour one not to miss.
The full verdict: Toward the end of GoodFellas, as the FBI arrest swathes of gangsters, one bystander remarks, “Why don’t you go down to Wall Street and catch some real crooks?”
23 years later Scorsese does just that and follows his first family film, Hugo, with the most debauched movie of his career. Although technically these gangsters’ HQ was not actually on Wall St.
Along for the ride is one-time Merrill Lynch legal assistant Terence Winter, regular writer on The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire.
So if the comparison was not clear enough, this is GoodFellas’ unofficial sequel – another movie about a charismatic but loathsome individual who swapped a conscience for vast riches and constant, instant gratification. Happily, Scorsese again pulls off the difficult trick of depicting the lifestyle’s allure but not being seduced into celebrating the lead anti-hero (who again provides a boastful, explanatory voiceover).
Whisking the audience into a world already travelling at supersonic speed, you ironically need a clear-head to keep up with the ways in which Belfort scammed his fortune (or risk becoming another cold-called victim).
After a promising career in an established Wall Street brokerage house is cut short by the 1987 stock market crash, Belfort finds himself at a tiny Long Island company.
But, not before a cameo’ing Matthew McConaughey (doing the odious Alec Baldwin bit from Glengarry Glen Ross) as a legendary broker has taught Belfort that all this is fantasy money and the smart get in and out fast leaving everyone else holding the bill.
Belfort then transforms profit expectations on “penny stocks” (stock from micro-companies) by buying it himself to jack up prices, then have his army of well-trained, hungry jackals sell the ultimately worthless paper to gullible or desperate investors.
And while not legal, the white collars, complex financial laws and classy sounding company name Stratton Oakmont meant this could hide in broad daylight. Although the FBI finally do come calling.
DiCaprio channels the reptilian charm of Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill (even occasionally sounding like him) and cements his status as one of his generation’s most dynamic thesps.
Whether imbibing substances at a rate that would make Hunter S. Thompson queasy, crawling to his Lamborghini while paralysed by copious Quaaludes, making a pass at Joanna Lumley (as a GILF money launderer), or firing up fellow bottom feeders with venal, materialistic motivational speeches, Leo is electric.
But crucially not likeable. There’s barely a sympathetic character in the movie, save Rob Reiner as DiCaprio’s bewildered dad and Kyle Chandler as the FBI agent pursuing Belfort but perhaps envious of his wealth.
Which makes watching The Wolf of Wall Street like staring into a piranha pool at feeding time. The energy, colours, and behaviour are fascinating… but grotesque.
Dwarf-tossing, ‘lude powered orgies, roller-skating chimps, naked marching bands, near-death in a storm tossed yacht, oily Swiss bankers (one courtesy of The Artist’s Jean Dujardin) and the inevitable betrayals when all involved start sweating over serious jail time are par the course if you want in on this alpha-male morality black hole.
Women exist only to be cheated on, act as status symbols, or to be paid for sex or humiliated as in a throwaway but upsetting moment when a secretary gets $10,000 to have her head shaved in front of baying men. But Milioti and Robbie still manage to make their mark as Mrs Belfort #1&2.
The most impressive aspect about The Wolf of Wall Street is that Scorsese’s daring, energy and social scalpel have not dulled even now he is in his 70s. His camera still dances, his fusion of image and song still astound, and again he holds the American Dream up to harsh light.
Which all brings us back to GoodFellas. As with that film, he again has been criticised here for glamourising criminals. This is all bunkum; – The Wolf of Wall Street reminds us where unchecked “entrepreneurship” can lead and proves why generations of film lovers regard Scorsese as America’s finest moviemaker.