The working collaboration between Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio has seen the pair produce some of the most interesting work of their respective careers. Beginning with Gangs of New York, the pair have worked in various genres, from the bio-pic (The Aviator), to the crime saga (The Departed), and perhaps most interestingly, the detective mystery noir (Shutter Island). Now the pair are entering into the bizarre world of the life of Jordan Belfort. While this is most certainly territory familiar to Scorsese (the examination of a man who represents the uglier side of human existence), this is new ground for DiCaprio, and together the pair have made a film that is balls to the wall crazy. A daring film from a seasoned vet and an actor pushing himself to the limits. The results are nothing short of amazing.
Starting in 1987, the film charts the rise and fall of young Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio), from a naive stock-brocker to one of the most richest and powerful men on Wall Street, a place he got to by not entirely legal means. After losing his job during the infamous ‘Black Monday’, Belfort becomes a self-made man and establishes his own firm, moving from dealing with penny stocks to exploiting the very rich in investments guaranteed to earn him 50% of whatever the client wishes to put down. Teaming up with Donnie Azof (Jonah Hill), Belfort soon moves his firm (Stratton Oakmount) from a garage in Long Island to the high rises of Wall Street’s skyscrapers, and that’s where things start to get really crazy. With vast amounts of wealth at their finger-tips, Belfort and his partners begin to indulge in a lifestyle of debauchery and extravagance, colouring their life with the shades of sex, drugs, and alcohol with little regard to issues of morality. It is not long however until the FBI begin sniffing around, leading to Belfort to try and cover his tracks. Something which proves rather difficult when one is rarely sober.
The story of Jordan Belfort is one that if it wasn’t true than no one would believe it. The scale of the mayhem on display is staggering, Scorsese proving that he has lost none of his touch as a purveyor of the darker sides of man and the corrupt impulses that they cannot deny. Escalation is the name of the game as we witness the more humble Belfort (a happily married ambitious man) slowly but surely become corrupted by the lifestyle he has chosen to the embark upon. Scorsese has not made a film this potent in its themes and exploration of ugly human beings arguably since Goodfellas, and it is truly astounding that a man of his age can still produce a film buzzing with such a vibrant and intoxicating energy. It proves that you can’t keep a good filmmaker down; as long as the material is good he will deliver. The Wolf of Wall Street is tailor made to Scorsese, his camera has lost none of its kinetic and fluid momentum as we revel in the madness on the screen.
DiCaprio is the man who is on more uncharted ground, but by God does he hit it out of the park. DiCaprio hounded Scorsese for quite a few years to make this film, and it only makes sense that Scorsese be the man to make it. Not only is it territory he excels in, you can just tell that DiCaprio feels much more comfortable giving this performance under the direction of a filmmaker he is familiar with, and a director he knows will call him out and push him to the limit. He delivers an incendiary performance that never loses its energy. He also demonstrates an impressive skill for physical comedy in one particular scene when some out of date ludes decide to kick in at the most inopportune moment. He relishes in the chance to play a douche; a charming man who turns surface level likeability on its head as we witness his drug-fuelled insanity. Anybody who looks at this man and thinks ‘I want a piece of that lifestyle’ needs to take a seriously long look in the mirror. This is a tale of a man’s own self-destruction, that while hilarious, is not one that an individual should desire to imitate.
The whole cast is extremely colourful, with many a surprising face popping up across the 3 hour run-time. Jonah Hill has a wonderfully easy going chemistry with DiCaprio, with the two proving to be one of the best comedic double acts that I have seen in quite sometime. He also steps up to the plate in regards to taking risks, turning in a daring and unexpectedly meaty performance. Margot Robbie, in the most significant of the few female roles, brings a level-headed confidence to the role of Belfort’s ill-served second wife Naomi, who is the only one out of the pair to grow-up and mature once entering married life. Matthew McConaughey turns in a brief but resounding performance as Belfort’s mentor, who sends the young man down the dark track of the world of Wall Street. Throughout the rest of the cast, it is a joy to see the likes of Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau, and Jean Dujardin appear in brief but pivotal roles.
The Wolf of Wall Street is sure to go down as one of Scorsese’s best films in a gallery that already includes many a masterpiece. In regards to the collaborations between DiCaprio, it is most definitely DiCaprio’s finest performance of the five films. To say it is the best out of the five will perhaps take repeat viewings. It is a darn sight better than Gangs of New York, more entertaining than the languishing Aviator, less sprawling than The Departed, and more enriching than Shutter Island. That said, it lacks the visual panache of particularly the latter two of those films. However, it is a hell of a ride, with the highly contagious spirit of the film separating it from the DiCaprio/Scorsese pack as a film, which perhaps negates comparison. The three hours fly by in what is a very early contender for film of the year; hilarious, un-biased, and undeniably impressive. I would have happily spent another hour in its corrupt, filthy, company!