It’s not the first time this year we’ve seen an almost distorted, fantastical take on the American Dream and how chasing it so fervently can ultimately lead to your demise, following on from the likes of Spring Breakers and Pain & Gain, once again making for such intriguing cinematic territory. Our chaser, in this instance, is Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), a self-made millionaire who rose from being a wealthy stockbroker to living the ultimate high life, marrying the beautiful Naomi (Margot Robbie) and spending the vast majority of his money on leisure and luxury, developing a drug addiction in the process. With his trusty colleague Donnie (Jonah Hill) by his side, it seems that Belfort has everything any man could need – except the legitimacy of the entire operation, which is put into question, and, inevitably, the FBI soon get involved…
The Wolf of Wall Street – based on a true story, has been adapted to the big screen by writer Terence Winter, and it’s a film that is delightfully absurd. Though searingly realistic at times, a healthy dose of surrealism helps to balance out this memorable picture. The narration to camera, for example, takes you away from the scene completely, enhancing this cartoon like, almost pantomime universe that Scorsese has created, making a farce out of a real story and presenting it in a grandiose and elaborate fashion. It’s absolutely hilarious too, with one slapstick scene that’s as funny a moment as you’ll see in the cinema this year. However this is counteracted masterfully with an intensity and foreboding element that remains prevalent, as you remain on edge, always anticipating that this dreamlike life Belfort leads will come to an abrupt end at any given moment, to see this exuberance and joviality turn sour in the blink of an eye. Such a sentiment lingers over proceedings throughout, and the way in which we occasionally dip into the FBI and their ongoing case maintains this level of tension.
When the film gets dark though, it gets really dark, and the use of a distorted version of Howlin’ Wolf’s Smokestack Lightning playing out during supposedly joyous sequences, makes for a cold, disquieting atmosphere, feeling almost sinister. There is something terribly seedy about this feature, and the money never feels real, almost like a lottery win – it’s all spent on cocaine and prostitutes. There’s something so superficial about it all, completely encapsulating this world of quick-fire fortune and the lack of intelligence and morality behind its spending. It’s so over indulgent in every aspect and Scorsese reflects this, as a film that doesn’t feel far removed from a Broadway musical of sorts, as everything is overstated and immoderate, from the use of naked women to drugs to money, all set within this tasteless, male-dominated environment.
To perfectly embody this ambiance, DiCaprio turns in one of his finest ever performances. He has a charm and charisma about him that nobody else quite matches in contemporary cinema, and it makes him perfect for this role – because for all of his shortcomings, Belfort is a beguiling, absorbing character that we can’t help but root for (not too dissimilar to a certain Gatsby, either). In front of his hundreds of followers and employees he’s almost like a preacher with the microphone: he has that false enticement about his demeanour. However DiCaprio also has a cold, sinister side to him, which is imperative to the character also, because he’s a slimy, cretinous figure. He’s so generous and yet so unforgiving. A wonderful display. Talking of which, Hill is also terrific, while a brief – yet truly amazing – cameo from Matthew McConaughey also deserves a brief mention.
It’s incredibly fascinating to see Scorsese get his hands on this powerful, affluent world, because he’s delved into New York life and society so often before, but generally from the other side of the financial spectrum, and rarely from the perspective of millionaires who lavishly blow money on whatever they can. It’s proved to be a more than worthy project for the auteur, as he treads that line between comedy and drama with perfection – in the only way he knows how.