Martin Scorsese launches a frenetic attack against how much raucous gluttony a viewer can tolerate and translate into entertainment. For three hours The Wolf of Wall Street screams fury in your face, challenging the audience’s ability to endure unrelenting excess and ugliness, with the only concession found in the prettiness of Di Caprio’s countenance, albeit spitting vitriol. Leo is so much of the movie, such an astonishing, unwired presence that it’s hard not to believe he’s not actually on the substances his character annihilates. How Di Caprio prepared himself to inhabit a heart which visibly pumps at such irregular intervals with such manic rage is hard to comprehend, but for his performance alone the film is worth three hours.
Di Caprio is Jordan Belfort, a young junior stockbroker who loses his job almost immediately following Black Monday. Already introduced to a life of cocaine and debauchery, Belfort makes his own way up through selling penny stocks, cold calling garbage collectors and Wal-Mart clerks, selling the impossible dream of getting rich quick, essentially stealing from the poor and making himself and his team (including Jonah Hill) filthy, dirty rich. Occasionally Belfort speaks straight into the camera and tries to explain the financial processes to the audience before realising he’s on a level way above our heads, ending his monologue by explaining that they essentially ‘just fucked people over’.
Despite the unrelentingly frenetic speed, the film’s main problem is that there’s just too much of it. It is physically exhausting to watch so much sex and drug abuse and accumulation and anger, which isn’t a problem in itself but it feels drawn out especially when the actual story relies a lot on convenience to get from one point to the next. With Terrence Winter (The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire) behind the script, there’s barely a line which any director would happily cut, but some ruthlessness is necessary.
It’s an unbearably long time to spend in such unpleasant company especially as there are no redeeming features to Jordan Belfort. The Wolf of Wall Street contains sequences so crazed they turn wide eyes bloodshot. A particular scene of an inebriated Belfort reduced to a squirming, crawling monster without the use of his legs whilst his world collapses around him will live long in the memory. Besides the madness of excess, it’s not clear what sort of underlying truth the film is trying to tell or if it’s attempting to tell one at all. Its moral compass is astray and it’s not interested in finding it. The film’s one source of upstanding truth is found in the FBI Agent on Belfort’s case (Kyle Chandler), whose search for justice is shunted well and truly to the background of the film’s more wild and exciting debauchery. It leaves it’s audience in a silent daze, forced to readjust the senses for the real world, desperately trying to escape Scorsese’s new image of violence.
Review by David Rank
The Wolf of Wall Street is out now in the UK and US. Running time 180 mins. Certificate 18 (UK).