The Wolf Of Wall Street

Director    Martin Scorsese
Starring    Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner
Release    25 DEC (US) 17 JAN (UK)    Certificate 15
5 stars

Ali Gray

17th January 2014

When was the last time you saw a three-hour movie that didn't once make you check your watch? When was the last time you saw a three-hour movie that didn't sag with its own self-importance? When was the last time you saw a three-hour movie that featured Jonah Hill masturbating at a pool party? Unless you have recently watched Martin Scorsese's The Wolf Of Wall Street, the answer is probably, hopefully, 'never'. In a time where the phrase 'awards season' has come to mean a deluge of desperately worthy, transparent, over-long Oscar-grabs, Scorsese is only interested in the best of excess – for a cautionary tale of a corrosive lifestyle, The Wolf Of Wall Street is surprisingly, shamelessly and consistently entertaining from beginning to end.

Those Goodfellas comparisons you've heard are justified, not just in terms of quality, but in terms of narrative. He might not utter the phrase exactly, but we begin with young Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) stepping off the bus in downtown Manhattan, informing us that ever since he was young, he always wanted to be a banker. The character arc that follows (the rise through the ranks, getting ahead by being badder than the rest, the highest highs, the lowest lows) is more than a little familiar; by the time Belfort is eaten up and chewed out by Wall Street, he might as well be a shnook eating egg noodles and ketchup. But, like Henry Hill, Jordan Belfort is left with one thing to his name: one hell of a story to tell.

It's easy to see why some have been prickly with The Wolf Of Wall Street because Scorsese isn't exactly quick to condemn Belfort's horrendously decadent lifestyle, but revelling in the depravity – the prostitutes, the blow, the midgets in the office thrown around like lawn darts – is an indictment in itself. We don't see Belfort's penniless victims, swindled out of their hard-earned coins, because they never enter his thoughts. We don't sympathise with the "skank hookers" Belfort and his cronies bang in the office, because they're not worthy of his time or attention. There's no point letting the most selfish man in the universe tell his story if you're going to wag your finger at him throughout. Belfort's tell-all book, and by extension, Scorsese's adaptation of it, is the most perfect portrait of the man, the lifestyle and the era you could ever ask for: the saviour of the finance world hoisted onto his own cross and crucified.


There's the delicious possibility, of course, that DiCaprio's Belfort is something of an unreliable narrator – watch how his voiceover berates Scorsese into changing the colour of his car ("Fuck you, my Ferrari was white, like Don Johnson's in Miami Vice"). As Belfort's parties become increasingly legendary and his antics ever more outrageous, you'd be right in detecting a whiff of that famous boiler room braggadocio. By the time Jordan's yacht is tipped over by a 100ft tsunami, you half suspect you're watching the grand delusions of a self-aggrandising asshole; one who's not selling stocks any more but selling himself. There is no chance that Scorsese is buying into Belfort's bullshit and neither should you.

Besides, why focus on the inevitable crashing comedown when the highs are so heady? Wolf is easily Scorsese's most overtly comedic movie to date – way funnier than Kundun – and contains scenes of breathtaking physical comedy. The centrepiece, a drug-addled confrontation between DiCaprio's Belfort and his right-hand man, played by Jonah Hill, is without a doubt the funniest scene you'll see all year; DiCaprio, near comatose on Quaaludes, goes full Gilbert Grape in his attempt to stop an equally drowsy Hill making a potentially calamitous phone call (the way he enters his car, foot-first, is almost Keaton-esque in its brilliance). I never thought I'd see the day Scorsese goes slapstick, but I'm so glad I did – if just for DiCaprio's swimming pool pratfall. It's already the most giffable movie of the year.

Favouring such frivolity over hand-wringing moralising might not sit right with some 99 percenters, but put yourself in the shoes of Scorsese's editor, Thelma Schoonmaker: what on Earth do you cut when your cast are giving you such gold? There's not a performance wasted. Given free reign to top even Jay Gatsby in the colossally rich d-bag stakes, DiCaprio unleashes a force of nature: it's a performance straight out of a cartoon (at one point, he even takes a cue from Popeye). This is every DiCaprio role you've seen in one glorious concoction: the swagger of Howard Hughes, the slickness of Frank Abagnale Jr, the morals of Calvin Candie. It's a performance of astonishing range: Jordan Belfort is not a particularly complex character, but in DiCaprio's hands you see both the man and the monster, never more so than when he announces his retirement to a floor full of rapt co-workers only to convince himself of his own brilliance.

Now you know why Jonah Hill was masturbating.

Matthew McConaughey is a riot as Belfort's Wall Street mentor, an alpha male Cosmo Kramer who compensates for his lack of beating heart by thumping his chest like a gorilla. Jonah Hill is a magnificent foil, all buck teeth and belly; Jean Dujardin is delightfully sleazy as a comical Swiss intermediate. Even the 'straight' roles are a hoot; Kyle Chandler has a ball as Belfort's unflappable pursuer at the FBI, particularly in a brilliant scene in which he plays dumb in an attempt to entrap his prey. Everyone's stock goes up here.

That goes for Scorsese too. Wolf is so jam-packed full of bravura moments – a 'luded-up Belfort casually crash-landing his chopper in his front yard, Belfort organising a marching band through his office, Belfort getting arrested during filming of his infomercial – that it's difficult to process them all in one sitting. Not since Goodfellas has Scorsese strutted so confidently through a story, his impeccable musical cues propelling him forward with a purpose he's not known for over 20 years. Bracingly confident and intoxicatingly funny, The Wolf Of Wall Street is an instant classic, up there with the director's best. Spend three hours on Scorsese's Wall Street, and he'll have you convinced: greed isn't just good – it's fucking great.

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