Martin Scorsese’s latest, The Wolf of Wall Street, explores the world of excess and overindulgence enjoyed by stock broker/swindler Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) in America during the 1990s. Belfort shamelessly pushed worthless stock at unsuspecting members of the public who often lost considerable quantities of their life savings, while Belfort made millions. He used this money to fuel his insatiable thirst for drugs, prostitutes and midget throwing, all while building a financial empire which inevitably brought the attentions of the authorities and thus his downfall.
Like all Scorsese movies, The Wolf of Wall Street is another technically astute and skilfully realised vision, backed up by great performances by Leonardo DiCaprio and especially Jonah Hill, who plays Belfort’s right hand man, Donnie Azoff, with both getting Oscar nods for their turns as the contemptible pairing. This is the 5th film collaboration between DiCaprio and Scorsese and it seems a relationship that works well, mirroring that of the director and his work with Robert DeNiro, however some will argue the quality of work back then was somewhat better than that of Scorsese and his modern muse.
Belfort’s life is an real world analogy of the darker side of the corruption prevalent in banking since the late 80s, but the story itself takes more of a light-hearted and somewhat flippant look at the way money corrupts rather than a staunch analysis of the power of greed, and the idea that white collar crime is not a victimless pursuit. You have to remind yourself that this is meant to be a dark comedy but considering the modern economic climate, having a banker protagonist who rips people off for a living is difficult to warm to, no less find charming enough to allow you to have respect for what he achieved, notwithstanding the fact it is a frenzied, gluttonous version of the American dream.
Comparisons have been made between this and both Wall Street and Goodfellas however it seems to miss the defining elements of both these films. Whereas Wall Street demonstrated the effects of corporate greed, and Goodfellas portrayed the moral downfall of a drug addled criminal, The Wolf of Wall Street seems content to avoid addressing these issues in any great depth, leaving a somewhat hollow artefact of both on screen and relying on the absurdity of the situations Belfort was in to propel the story onwards towards an inevitable conclusion. Perhaps Scorsese and screenwriter Terence Winter should have taken more liberties with the source material and inferred at the moral and immoral decisions Belfort had to take as he rampaged through these years of excess, rather than simply detailing his life like chapters in a book. It is a very interesting story, told by skilful storytellers, and is filled with great scenes and wonderful dialogue, but it just seems lacking in some certain depth, and perhaps this is the only bit of information Jordan Belfort keeps to himself in this honest and candid real life story.