If half of what happens in The Wolf of Wall Street is to be believed, Jordan Belfort is either a very brave man or a very foolish one. While lesser men (or more sensible ones) might be cowed by being convicted of multi-million-dollar fraud, he appears happy for the world to see his life history in all its sordid details. And sordid details they are indeed.
The film centres on the rise and fall of Belfort (Leo DiCaprio) in the mysterious world of high finance during the 1990s. Starting his first proper job with a Wall Street firm on Black Monday, his career might have been over before it began. However, a chance advert in a newspaper led him to the world of penny stocks, which offered obscenely high commissions for persuading buyers to make investments that were mostly doomed to failure. Guaranteed returns and little need to ever pay out – what could possibly go wrong?
After a Forbes article billed Belfort as ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, hordes of young financiers flocked to join his firm and fortune followed. In the years before the FBI eventually caught up with him, orgies, drugs and increasingly extravagant parties became the norm (cue a board meeting discussing the contractual limitations of dwarf tossing and a female coworker shaving her hair off in the middle of the trading floor for $10,000).
Misogynistic, corrupt and as arrogant as they come, it is testament to DiCaprio’s sterling performance that Belfort can come across as even vaguely likeable, let alone almost seeming the victim at times. And while complaints have been levelled that the film glorifies excess, Scorsese revels equally in Belfort’s crashing collapse when it finally comes.
DiCaprio is on the form of his career, although he is ably assisted by a great supporting cast, including Jonah Hill and newcomer Margot Robbie. Very slick, very funny and very very sweary, this is one of the quickest three-hour films of the year. Go see and enjoy…