Head to a bar. Order a shot of tequila. Chuck some tabasco in it, some pepper, maybe some lighter fluid. Open one eye wide and shoot the shot straight into your eyeball. The experience you’ll have is nothing like watching this film, but it’s the best I can do and gets you in the right mindset for the madness.
What this film is, let’s be honest, is an insane, orgasmic orgy of debauchery; a heady rush of excess and depravity. This is mainlining pure DiCaprio and Scorsese straight into your bloodstream – and within the first few seconds you’re hooked.
Charting the life of young stockbroker, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) in the late ’80s/early ’90s – with a smart screenplay by Terence Winter – it’s been described, aptly, as ‘Goodfellas on steroids’. Indeed, near the start of the film to set the scene Belfort frequently directly addresses the camera in much the way Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill did in 1990. There’s drugs, money, gambling, women, more drugs. And those pesky chaps at the FBI of course, trying to ruin everyone’s fun.
However, instead of gangsters here we get stockbrokers – the modern white collar equivalent. And, in the way that Goodfellas is perhaps dominated by moments of violence, The Wolf of Wall Street, more often than not, gives way to comedy. I mean, who has a genuine business meeting about the best way to toss a dwarf at a dartboard?
To properly portray the reprehensible Jordan Belfort you need a man like DiCaprio who oozes charisma. A man whose screen presence is unquestionable: the way his wolf pit of brokers hang on his every word is a sight to see. In one scene, taking a leaf from his mentor’s notebook (the rascally Matthew McConaughey, who else?), he has his entire sales force thumping their chests, like some sort of tribe.
Belfort is shocking in every sense, yet mesmerising. Almost to the point that you’re rooting for him to make it and come good before he falls foul of the feds. Scorsese treads a fine line here but, to be honest, we all know Belfort isn’t going to have a happy ending. He’s too arrogant, too sure of himself, too full of drugs to do anything but keep going.
And part of the thrill here is letting Scorsese and DiCaprio take us on that journey. Never have three hours of drugs, hookers and madness looked so much fun. (Your office on Monday morning will seem like a tomb in comparison.) Obviously the film is a cautionary tale, a nod to the excesses that ultimately led to the current financial crisis but… like in the film, before we get all technical, all you need to know is that what these guys were doing was bad. But boy, how did bad end up looking so good?
DiCaprio carries the movie along like a man possessed, but the supporting cast were also impressive. Newcomer 23-year-old Australian Margot Robbie was perfectly cast as Belfort’s wife, Naomi. Looking like a cross between Olivia Wilde and Cameron Diaz, she played her part like a seasoned pro. No doubt we’ll be seeing a lot more of her in the near future (she’s rumoured to be Jane to Alexander Skarsgard’s Tarzan in an upcoming film of the same name. She’s also apparently replaced Amanda Seyfried as the lead in a forthcoming sci-fi flick Z for Zachariah).
And, along with the wife let’s not forget Belfort’s trusty best friend, Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill). Seems he’s come a long way since the days of Superbad in 2007, with Moneyball (2011) and a smart remake of 21 Jump Street (2012) providing a perfect platform for him to leap headfirst into a Scorsese movie. And leap he did. You wonder just how wild Belfort would have been without Azoff by his side, egging him on. In an early scene where the two haven’t been friends for long, Donnie says he has a gift for Belfort – this turns out to be smoking crack in the middle of the day.
And Hill plays him wonderfully. You almost feel DiCaprio had to up his comedy game to keep up with Hill, but that often made for some truly hilarious moments. Without spoiling it, there’s numerous scenes where the pair do one too many ‘ludes’ aka quaaludes (a pill – now no longer in production surprisingly – that robs you of your motor skills), which left them – how shall we say – without the ability to function in pretty much all senses of the word.
It’s not surprising that this film is up for a stack of awards. Banker bashing and morals aside, what it is – as a cinema experience – is pure hedonistic fun. This is Scorsese with his hair down and the wind in his sails. All we can do is hang on and enjoy the ride.