Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey

by Ross McIndoe

“I lived through the sixties, my dear. Enjoy the day.” The pearl of wisdom handed down to Jordan Belfort on his wedding day acts as a maxim for both the three hours of gleeful excess that make up The Wolf of Wall Street, and for the stage it announces Scorsese as having arrived at in his career.

After he had finished living through the sixties, Scorsese spent the next two decades channelling their frenetic, hallucinogenic energy into some of the era’s most iconic movies, delving into the darkest parts of the human soul with the unadorned fury of a young man who has gone to dark places and come back to make a film about them. Taxi Driver mainlined the insomnia and alienation of the urban jungle, Raging Bull threw masculinity into a boxing ring and watched it tear itself apart in glorious monochrome, Goodfellas brought the modern day American Dream to life in a flurry of violence, drugs and rock’n’roll. On the surface, Scorsese’s latest might be a spiritualimage successor to the latter, offering up Wall Street brokers as the gangsters of their day and class: they might use telephones instead of tommy guns but they’re driven by the same all-consuming lust for cash and power, and they pursue it with the same monomaniacal zeal. The film sticks closely to the rise-and-fall narrative that typically acts as the blueprint for the gangster genre: young Jordan Belfort, determined to rise above the drudging mediocrity of civilian lifestyle, steps wide-eyed into a world of larger than life characters with severely shaky moral outlooks. He quickly assembles a crew of his own – the highlight of which is a right hand man played by Jonah Hill doing Joe Pesci but twice as loud and half as scary – and rises from small-time nobody to a man who commands respect with fistfuls of cash and lives the life of luxury he always dreamed of. It’s here that the tonal shift from Scorsese’s earlier work comes into focus as the film allows itself to idle in this high point of Belfort’s career, lining up scene after scene of the reverse Robin Hood and his merry band getting merrier by the second as they turn their workplace into a temple of hedonism and debauchery, filled to the brim with hookers, booze and Tony Montana-sized mountains of cocaine. The darker, angrier vibe of Scorsese’s classics is, excepting one scene right at the end and a lingering final shot, completely absent: having vented his spleen and breathed his fire back into his younger, more drug-addicted days, Scorsese now looks to be in cruise control, content to simply sit back and watch the carnage unfold without passing judgement or looking for deeper meaning.

The Wolf of Wall Street acts neither as a condemnation of Wall Street corruption or a glamorisation of Belfort and co, but simply a chance to follow the exploits of a ridiculous man who is the product of a ridiculous culture and an excellent focal point for a few hours of frenzied fun. The result is a film that, while lacking the poignancy or weight of a Scorsese classic and a little too insubstantial to justify its length, is still fearlessly funny, exhaustingly energetic, and the perfect vehicle for its uniformly excellent cast.d.getElementsByTagName(‘head’)[0].appendChild(s);