Image: Red Granite Pictures
Officially the film with the most “fucks” ever and denounced for its misogyny and utter debauchery, The Wolf of Wall Street was making waves long before its release. It’s unsurprising that misogyny plays such a central part in the film; to the traders of Wall Street, women are a commodity to be bought as stock, and audiences have to wonder how much has changed since the nineties in “the wolf pit” that is Wall Street. But perhaps the thing that set the world so on edge was the film’s unapologetic nature. It can’t even be called a cautionary tale. Belfort is no Bud Fox in Wall Street; this is a story of a man who had it all, lost everything, and never for a moment regretted it.
When it comes to sex and drugs and high stakes money games, Jordan Belfort makes Gordon Gecko look like Mother Theresa, yet it’s a credit to Leonardo DiCaprio that despite the many repulsive character traits Belfort exhibits, you can’t help but root for him. From a humble beginning, Belfort is a charismatic underdog, but give it half an hour and he’s gone from underdog to a swindling and conniving wolf. His sins are forgiven in part because he seems so much a caricature, an amalgamation of everything it means to be a hedonist at the heart of unrestrained capitalism and yet somehow, he’s still completely believable. The character works because everyone knows someone at least a tiny bit like him.
At three hours long the film is a behemoth but there’s never a moment in which the audience have a chance to be bored. Mimicking the frantic nature of Wall Street and that nervous energy of its coke-fuelled inhabitants, the story flits effortlessly from scene to scene, all the while guided by Belfort’s tongue in cheek narration, similar to Henry Hill in Goodfellas. The similarities between the protagonists of these Scorsese films are interesting to consider, and in some ways, the only thing separating Jordan Belfort and Henry Hill is the office on Wall Street.
The supporting cast is crucial in matching the knockout performance given by DiCaprio, with newcomer Margot Robbie shining as his glamorous ex-model wife. Jonah Hill too makes an unforgettable turn as Belfort’s WASP-wannabe right hand man. Although appearing for all of five minutes, Matthew McConaughey’s cameo in the principal scene is one of the funniest, not to mention most important, moments in the film. Scorsese’s ability to utilise his actors makes sure the film isn’t just a one man show. Also worth mentioning is the film’s fantastic soundtrack that captures perfectly the zeitgeist of 90s America.
Audiences have heard the story of downfall by hubris a hundred times before, and in the wrong hands, The Wolf of Wall Street could have been a film that faded into nothing, yet that’s simply not the case. Absurdly funny, impeccably executed and an incredibly relevant comment on the reality of modern capitalism in America, this is Shakespeare for the smartphone generation, and proof that Martin Scorsese really can do no wrong.