Pow. Pow. Pow. Pow. Pow. That’s how Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street comes at you. I could have taken a few more pows – which shows how much fun it is to spar with this frisky badboy. You probably hate that it runs three hours. Yeah, like we don’t spend that much time every effing day exchanging banalities on digital media. This is Scorsese, people, delivering a cinematic landmark. Look closely and you might see your own venal fantasies in how these Wall Street scumbags spend their ill-gotten gains on drugs, hookers, cars, yachts and jets. Working with a gutsy script by The Sopranos‘ Terence Winter, Scorsese is jabbing hard at America’s jackpot culture. The laughs are merciless and nonstop, every one with a sting in its tail.
If that’s too much for you, go watch The Sound of Music. Scorsese doesn’t coddle. Wolf snarls and bites, but you won’t forget for a second that you’re in the hands of a master filmmaker. Once again, following Goodfellas and Casino, Scorsese has his eye on money and how it moves through society, top to bottom. The stock scammers of Wolf don’t carry guns or run gambling dens. Greed is their bond, and they wear it like a second skin.
Front and center is Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), a New York broker with the talent to sell you nightmares disguised as dreams. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Belfort moved from hawking penny stocks in boiler rooms to founding Stratton Oakmont, a Long Island firm that ran the same hustle in a classier office. Belfort eventually did 22 months of jail time for his sins. But what sins! In his 2007 autobiography, the source for Winter’s script, Belfort detailed excesses that would shame Roman emperors. Scorsese and camera whiz Rodrigo Prieto (Amores Perros) don’t skimp on the decadence. Putting on the brakes is the problem for Belfort and his top wingman, Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill starts at terrific and builds from there). For them, no time is wrong for an orgy or a new hustle. Quaaludes are the drug of choice for these masters of the universe. One scene, in which a ‘luded-out Belfort drives home from a country club, is for-the-ages hilarious. And scary. That’s the point.
DiCaprio’s swaggering, swinging-dick performance is the wildest damn thing he’s ever put onscreen. Whether he’s lying to his trophy wife, Naomi (Aussie actress Margot Robbie in a star-making role), breaking frame to talk to the camera or rallying his troops like a hopped-up Braveheart, DiCaprio is a marvel. Wolf is his fifth film with Scorsese, and they’re still daring each other, still pushing the limits.