Based on the memoir of New York stockbroker Jordan Belfort, The Wolf Of Wall Street is a lurid portrait of debauchery following the same misaligned moral compass as Oliver Stone’s Oscar-winning 1987 drama Wall Street.
Greed isn’t just good, it’s a cornerstone of this gaudy, hallucinogenic American dream, allowing the unscrupulous to prey on the weak and vulnerable in order to finance flashy apartments, fast cars and copious amounts of nose candy.
It’s hard to believe that 71-year-old Martin Scorsese, whose last film was the family-friendly fantasy Hugo, is the ringmaster of this booze-, sex-, coke- and testosterone-fuelled circus.
The director pulls no punches in his depiction of Belfort’s wild excesses including myriad scenes of pill-popping and a slow motion orgy on a private jet – the film wears its 18 certificate as a badge of honour. “On a daily basis, I take enough drugs to sedate Manhattan, Staten Island and Queens... for a month,” boasts Jordan (Leonardo DiCaprio) in his opening voiceover.
He owns a sprawling mansion replete with swimming pool, tennis court and waterfall, plus a white Ferrari “like Don Johnson’s in Miami Vice.”
In flashback, we meet Jordan as he nervously starts a position with brokers at Rothschild, where charismatic golden boy, Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), takes the newcomer under his tailored wing.
In the aftermath of Black Monday, Jordan loses his job and is forced to sell penny stocks at a fly-by-night operation in Long Island.
Blessed with the gift of the gab, Jordan excels and decides to open his own firm, Stratton Oakmont, with salesman Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill). The business goes from strength to strength and Jordan jettisons his wife Teresa (Cristin Milioti) to romance blonde bombshell Naomi Lapaglia (Margot Robbie).
Meanwhile, the “work hard, play harder” mantra of Stratton Oakmont attracts the attentions of tenacious FBI Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler), who resolves to bring down Jordan and his gluttonous inner circle.
As the noose tightens around Jordan’s neck, he involves Naomi’s aunt Emma (Joanna Lumley) in his enterprises and attempts to deposit money in a Swiss bank account overseen by Jean Jacques Saurel (Jean Dujardin).
The Wolf Of Wall Street howls but doesn’t bite. It offers us a cautionary tale that revels in Jordan’s triumphs for so long, we almost forget he must get his comeuppance.
Scorsese’s directorial brio coupled with DiCaprio’s twitchy lead performance ease some of the pain of the excessive running time, and the nasty stink of the script’s depiction of women as suckers and sex objects.
While individual scenes pulsate with misplaced youthful exuberance, as a whole, The Wolf Of Wall Street and its repugnant characters overstay their welcome. We hanker for a shower to wash away the grubbiness and grime of Jordan’s enterprises well before the three hours are up.