Film: The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, 2013)

Scorsese’s latest film may be brash, sexist, drug-addled and reckless – but don’t hold that against it

-Kathryn Bromwich


Scene one: a raucous office party culminates in a midget-throwing competition. Scene two: Leonardo DiCaprio blows cocaine into a prostitute’s arse. We couldn’t be further away from Martin Scorsese’s last film Hugo, a gentle, whimsical paean to early cinema’s Georges Méliès. Eventually cut to under three hours after a tortuous development process marked by funding problems, this film about excess examines why the stock market went wrong.

It turns out, it went wrong in a haze of orgies, yachts and cocaine. DiCaprio looks as if he was born to play the slick, charming and morally repulsive stockbroker Jordan Belfort, on whose memoir the film is based. Gross-out comedy star Jonah Hill’s slapstick talents work surprisingly well alongside the acting heavyweight as his fun-loving business partner Donnie Azoff. The duo swing from frenzied “Greed is good” speeches reminiscent of Oliver Stone’s Gordon Gekko to the drug-crazed antics of 80’s stoners Bill & Ted, including a memorable scene where they writhe around in a Quaalude-induced stupor.

The supporting cast go to town on the “sleazy banker” roles: Jean Dujardin is deliciously seedy as a corrupt Swiss banker, and Matthew McConaughey delivers a seven-minute performance of borderline-insane virile overload. In this testosterone-fuelled world, female characters are confined to the binary roles of “hot babe” and “nagging wife”, occasionally combining the two functions.

On the surface, the film is presented as confessional, “a cautionary tale” in Belfort’s words. Yet, there is no denying that it is also chillingly boastful. In such a sea of wealth and excess, the repentance feels tacked-on: one suspects that Belfort has not learnt from his mistakes – nor, indeed, have the groups of bankers who booked out entire cinemas to see the film. Scorsese’s non-judgemental approach lets viewers make up their own minds, but has been criticised for not spelling out the moral outrage or providing a satisfying comeuppance.

There are a few brief gestures towards the lives of ordinary people – a shot of commuters on the subway, some members of staff – but after three hours of unchecked debauchery you’re so jaded that you find yourself skirting over them, much like Belfort does. The film sweeps the audience along in a carefree euphoria that only dissipates after the credits roll. For a film so gloriously unsubtle, its message might be too implicit for its own good. Scorsese’s latest film may not have the depth of something like Goodfellas, but it is angrier and more outraged than it first appears. And it’s also really, really funny.

Four stars

The Wolf of Wall Street opens in UK cinemas on Friday 17 January 2014


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