I began with the intention of setting out view that the character of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) from The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) was likeable. It’s not an easy question to answer with a straight yes or no. In short he’s not a likeable guy, but why? That’s the harder part to answer, because usually if you don’t like the lead or the hero, then you turn off or walk away, not caring for whatever happens to them. They’ve done nothing to deserve your sympathies. Unlike Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) who always wanted to be a gangster, ended up in over his head and gave evidence against his friends in court in Goodfellas (1990). There is none of that here in the cold hard world of making cash on Wall Street. We do have that same template, the aspiration for a better life, that comes at great cost to all involved, not just financially but emotionally and some physically. It’s DiCaprio’s incredible knock out of the park performance that saves this man of excess to be forgiven, and that alone.
And at the end of that we can stick around for an incredibly long-winded three-hour film, which reminds me more of Scorsese‘s Casino (1995) a more visually excessive film that moves at breakneck speed over the course of an individual who is caught up in a whirlwind of a messed up world. I can see where part of the film that were shaved to even ensure an 18 rating, could still be taken down at least another half an hour or so. The overall length reflects the excesses of the corrupt stockbrokers lives. Starting out at the bottom before the financial crash of the 1980’s which saw Belfort back to square one, after learning how to live the life of a stock broker thanks to his first boss Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) who was his role model. Even though it was a small role for McConaughey it does make quite an impression on not just Belfort but the audience. McConaughey is definitely going through a golden period of regeneration in his career after slipping into a rom-com slump for a most of the last decade.
Turning to (Donnie Azoff) (Jonah Hill) Belfort’s partner in crime, with a lust for the high life, the security and luxury that comes with money in its excess. Both becoming addicted to drugs in all forms. Together and with the rest of the crooked high-flyers they enjoy a torrent of sex and drugs which on its own could account for a third of the films length, which is a lot when you take into account all that is a lot.
With all the excess there is a moral centre to it all in the form of those on the outside, the family of Belfort who can see beyond the short-term gains. Mainly in the form of his father Max Belfort (Rob Reiner) who know that the “hens will come home to roost“. His first wife Teresa Petrillo (Cristin Milioti) who like us doesn’t understand all of the sales and stock market mumbo-jumbo can see what damage could be done, the potential for harm. Even his second wife Naomi Lapaglia (Margot Robbie) begins to see the bigger picture when children are involved.
It’s like DiCaprio has been saying over and over again on the promotions circuit, it is a cautionary tale. Pausing in character to address us, as if to see him reliving the events telling us that he has learnt his lesson, but at the time the lust for money, power, drugs and material possessions drove him to near destruction. It never celebrates any of it, as bright and as colourful as it looks, we can see how the lifestyle cannot be sustained. Something we have seen more recently with the 2008 recession. Gordon Gekko’s idea that “Greed is good” is once again questioned, and instead of waiting 20 years for sequel, the consequences are laid out for us.
The Wolf of Wall Street is everything I’ve just been talking about and also extremely funny, with all the f-bombs and other colourful language which is synonymous with a Scorsese film. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Of course at times you think, less of the language, before thinking, he’s paint an honest as he can picture, with added style and effect. We see a return to form for Marty which he never really lost, it’s the subject matter that dictates the tone which we have not seen since The Departed (2006) which was a master-class in acting for all concerned.