Addiction to drugs, sex and money fuelled the real Jordan Belfort’s time as a broker and Scorsese shows it all, as we follow the career of The Wolf of Wall Street. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Belfort and captures the rapacious, ambitious Wolf perfectly. He is unsympathetic but with a magnetism and charisma which make his sales ability, and debauchery, completely convincing. The physicality of DiCaprio’s performance as he moves between sobriety and extreme intoxication is impressive and uncomfortably hilarious, leaving a constant niggle that such excess should seem appalling rather than funny.
Many of the most hedonistic scenes are taken directly from Jordan Belfort’s own memoir and Scorsese shows the characters’ actions without judging them. The debauchery and excess of the central characters are presented as necessary to fuel the competitive testosterone-fest of trading; the profit-hunting culture of Wall Street being as much to blame as the brokers themselves. The exploits of the traders (in particular Jonah Hill as Donnie Azoff) hover between funny and repulsive with enough incidents notably lacking laughter to make the film more than just a superficial celebration of wealth. Cutting quickly past distress or leaving victims to linger in the edge of the frame, the cinematography reinforces the uncertainty about whether enjoyment or condemnation is the more appropriate response.
At three hours, the film might be said to mirror its characters’ excesses in its own running time and the final act is somewhat drawn out. Ultimately, though, The Wolf of Wall Street is never boring and my enjoyment of it was tinged only by a sense of dirtiness at having witnessed such indulgent hedonism.
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