In the first five minutes of The Wolf of Wall Street, we’re hit with a montage of dwarf tossing, blow jobs in fast cars, Miller Light models reclining in lingerie with a come hither look, ostentatious houses surrounded by acres of land, massive yachts with helicopter landing pads attached to them, and Leonardo DiCaprio snorting drugs out of a hooker’s bum hole.
Helpfully, DiCaprio tells us, “Put your dick back in your pants!” Then, shortly afterwards, the story rewinds to a cleaner time, veins running free of booze and other illicit substances. It’s here that we’re introduced to Matthew McConaughey, in an all too brief cameo that further cements his rediscovered status as a serious, scene stealing actor, after being mired in romcom hell and nude bongo playing.
He proves to be the extra push that DiCaprio’s character needs, setting him on a highly successful path towards untold riches. The character is Jordan Belfort, a stockbroker, and The Wolf of Wall Street is based on his real-life memoirs. Back in the eighties, Belfort stumbled into a job selling penny stocks, and realised there was huge amounts of money to be made, if you sold enough of them, thanks to a fifty percent commission. He then forms his own company with a bunch of friends, which is nothing more than a respectable façade for his stock market scams.
What follows is near enough two and a half hours of debauchery, wild parties, drug addiction, and rolling around on beds full of bank notes. For a three-hour film, it feels remarkably short, confirming that time really does fly when you’re having fun. And these guys have a lot of fun. I mean, insane amounts of fun. Hardly a minute goes by without something totally outrageous happening.
I won’t spoil what DiCaprio and the gang get up to, as much of the joy is gained from seeing just how much things spiral out of control, and the less you know about their hijinks, the better. Under the smart direction of Martin Scorsese, handling the camera in a way that belies his seventy years of age, every success, every monumental cock-up is machine-gunned across the screen, until it gets to the point where you can’t help but laugh. He may not have set out to make a comedy, especially given all the shitty things that Belfort got up to, but that’s what we get. It ends up being a lot funnier than most of the comedies I’ve seen in the last ten years.
Scorsese is such a master at cataloguing a man’s downfall, that there’s a perverse pleasure in witnessing the good times turn bad in the last hour. His style is non-judgemental, refusing to do too much hand wringing. Maybe that’s down to Belfort himself, as he rarely seems sorry for anyone that he’s ripped off. He’s a product of the Reaganite era, a time which empowered sociopaths who wanted to get ahead. But Scorsese gives us the unvarnished story, and let’s us judge Belfort for ourselves.