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The Wolf of Wall Street - Review

The Wolf of Wall Street

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4.5 out of 5

THE partnership between Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio has yielded some great films (Shutter Island, The Aviator) but it’s arguable whether it has so far delivered anything to rival Goodfellas or Casino, just two of the director’s classics with Robert De Niro.

Enter The Wolf of Wall Street, a ferocious and very funny expose of Wall Street avarice and excess that finds the director back to career-best form (not that he’s ever too far away!).

Inspired by the true story of stockbroker Jordan Belfort, the film chronicles his rise from young idealist to ruthless cash magnet, taking in his arrival on Wall Street, his quick departure following the 1987 crash and his subsequent re-emergence as a power in his own right driven by his ability to sell, manipulate and even commit fraud in the name of profit.

Far from putting his billions to good use at the end of it all, however, Belfort consumed it in a decadent lifestyle that incorporated everything from hookers and fast cars to boats and cocaine (or whatever cocktail of drugs delivered the biggest high).

Scorsese’s film may boil down to a cautionary tale that shows nothing good can come from such hedonistic excess but it doesn’t dare tread a conventional path to get there, never stepping out of Belfont’s world to show his victims.

Rather, he takes viewers on the same kind of ride that Belfort was on, showing how all-consuming the lifestyle and the greed became. Belfort was not only addicted to drugs but to power, to money, to sex, to manipulation… whatever life threw at him. His appetite was insatiable.

And while there are certainly stylistic similarities to Scorsese’s Casino and Goodfellas, it’s also worth noting that Belfort could just as easily be viewed as the Scarface or Tony Montana of Wall Street, never knowing when to get off the ride until it was too late.

If the film feels celebratory, then it’s not. Yes, it’s a wild ride and boosted throughout by some ridiculously excessive highs (one of which will surely rate as the laugh out loud comedy sequence of the year), but it never calls upon you to sympathise with Belfort or even particularly like him.

He’s charismatic but he’s a jerk. And when the dust does finally settle, there’s not much left to admire. In that regard, The Wolf of Wall Street could even be viewed as soulless, but then that’s also kind of the point.

That isn’t to say it lacks dramatic weight, though. The insights into Wall Street/corporate excess are eye-opening for anyone who cares to wonder how global finances got screwed in the first place, making this very much a film of its moment (and one worthy of looking back on in years to come). While Scorsese is expert enough to ensure the film has many performances to savour among the razzle dazzle.

DiCaprio delivers a tour-de-force as Belfort, emerging as some kind of human tornado in the process. It’s a role that requires no humility, but which fills the screen with its enormity. And yet as loud and as bravura as it certainly is, there are occasional glimpses that show Belfort knows the beast he has become.

Memorable, too, are Margot Robbie as Belfort’s second wife, ravishing to look at but her own kind of materialistic viper; Kyle Chandler as the FBI agent on Belfort’s case (the bribery scene between them is a gem); Matthew MCConaughey, who scenery chews in an all too brief role as Belfort’s mentor, and Jonah Hill as Belfort’s closest business associate, whose own hedonistic inclinations are as dangerous and all-consuming as his friend.

At one minute short of three hours, The Wolf of Wall Street is a long journey that does, at times, feel its length. But its highlights are such that it’s also an unmissable piece of filmmaking and another Scorsese classic.

Certificate: 18
Running time: 179mins
UK Release Date: January 17, 2014