Notwithstanding how you earn money, if you become successful and accumulate more than you need. Do you :-
A) Invest wisely, give to charity and try to make the world a better place or
B) Live a shallow life indulging every possible whim, debauchery and drug imaginable?
With the opening scene depicting our titular character snorting Cocaine from or into the trim derrière of a willing prostitute, flying a helicopter whilst on quaaludes and receiving a blow job in his Ferrari, it is clear stockbroker Jordan Belfort (Leonardo Di Caprio) has made his choice, “excess all areas”.
We first meet Belfort discussing safety concerns when throwing “little people” onto a large target at the office. Drug fuelled target darts but with real people, albeit smaller and with a near naked marching band in the background, another normal day in the office.
Once the ground rules have been established, we are taken back to find out how Belfort got started. Twenty two and fresh faced and if not naive, then certainly primed and ready to be corrupted, we experience stockbroking, 80’s style.
Shown the ropes by his bosses Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) and DeBlasio (Rothbart), standard operating procedure appears to be multiple Martini’s for lunch, copious snorting in the bathroom, followed by “self administered relief”, before selling stocks to punters and creaming the commission. Clearly the new entrants guidebook would be a short, yet entertaining read
All is well, Belfort passes his exams to be a “real” broker just in time for the 1987 stock-market crash which puts him on the pavement and into the arms of a dodgy penny stock selling outfit. Offloading “dog” penny shares to those that can ill afford to lose the money, Belfort finds his true calling. Lying, cheating and selling crap to those gullible enough to think they can get rich quick.
Drawn into this black hole of lucrative deceit is Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), noted for his pearly white teeth, desire to get rich and an unquenchable desire to be chemically enhanced as often as possible.
Soon the merry band grows, robbing the poor to enable them to become rich, like Robin Hood’s evil twin. What was small time hustling outfit, is over time smeared with a liberal yet gossamer thin coat of corporate responsibility and voila, a respectable stockbroking firm “Stratton Oakmont” is born.
As more acolytes are drawn to the burning bulb of easy wealth, a magazine article designed to trash Belfort’s name is written and “The Wolf of Wall Street” is born. As his infamy grows, so does his wealth and extreme tastes.
Long suffering wife Teresa (Milioti) eventually gets traded for a newer model Naomi (Margot Robbie), but these are just meaningless titles as everyone just does as they please, whenever, wherever and with whoever they like.
Belfort’s quick to temper father (Rob Reiner), is ostensibly charged with looking after the finances, cue an amusing scene as the group explain how a lunch could cost $26,000. After a while, even with the lax laws at the time or arguably now, the authorities begin to take an interest in Belfort. Terrier like FBI agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) devotes considerable time and effort into bringing some justice to the ordinary man, whether he ultimately succeeds depends on your view point.
This is a long, desperately cynical film, albeit laced with pitch black humour from Martin Scorsese. Arguably a morality tale with few morals and no real condemnation and yet some celebration, of the behaviour on display. After all, this a man who stole from those who can ill afford to lose money, snorted and wasted the money, served minimal soft jail time, never apologised and yet continues to gain money from his notoriety.
However, films are generally not made about “good people”, so let’s park those feelings. This is a Scorsese movie, so it looks fantastic, DiCaprio is superb and completely believable. Whether motivating the troops like the fictional Gordon Gekko on which he styled himself, or spaced out on the latest stimulant, here is a man who just wanted more of everything.
Hill adds another excellent turn to his rapidly growing list of respectable roles, both Hill and DiCaprio get an acting work-out in every sense. Margot Robbie would entice most to the dark side and portrays a rapidly changing character well but the film rests solely on DiCaprio’s shoulders and does not disappoint.
There is much nudity on view here, more F-Bombs than a convention of shipbuilders with Tourette’s and drug use that would make the early Rolling Stones look like boy scouts. The flight to the bachelor party, clearly shows how far “in flight” entertainment has come.
The film pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable in a mainstream film, managing to stay just under the censors ever moving bar of acceptability. A brave film in many ways that many would not have attempted, focussing on an unlikeable character that DiCaprio makes no attempt to make audience friendly.
Despite the length of the film, there is no attempt to ask why or explore Belfort’s motivations for such a vacuous life, nor seek any form of redemption. Perhaps like the film, it is what it is and you must deal with it in your own way.
Most assuredly not a film to watch with the mother in law, home-stay or indeed anyone easily offended by just about anything. However for those left, there is much to enjoy here albeit, like Belfort with no cause and effect responsibility.
A modern classic from Scorsese, pushing the boundaries for mainstream movies, depicting an era that some might think has been and gone but is likely just better hidden.
Highly recommended, with the strong caveats mentioned above