Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Cristin Milioti, Joanna Lumley
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
'For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to be a stockbroker.'
Okay, so that isn't actually how The Wolf of Wall Street starts, but it's close. Lauded as Scorsese's best film since Goodfellas (it's not, incidentally: The Departed is better) it tells the torrid tale of nefarious trader and self-made kabillionaire Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio).
An eager beaver office rookie at 22, his path is set when he encounters cocaine-snorting, Martini-swilling senior partner Mark Hanna (a genius cameo from a scarily emaciated looking Matthew McConaughey, an actor who's soared spectacularly from rom-com zero to off-the-wall hero in my book). According to Hanna, the secret of success is to transfer money from your client's pocket to your own. End of. (Chest thumping, jungle humming self-psyching routine aside.)
And boy does Belfort learn this lesson well. Starting with nothing, he and morally bankrupt comedy sidekick Donny Azhoff (Jonah Hill) build up a towering financial empire on the shaky foundations of dodgy deals, powered by drug abuse and depraved, misogynistic sexual antics so colossally excessive they make a backstage orgy with Mötley Crüe look like a vicar's tea party. Let's just say the forthcoming film of the band's legendary biography The Dirt is going to have to work pretty damned hard to top the average Friday night post work drinks at Stratton Oakmont.
Needless to say, it all falls apart eventually – but there's an awful lot of debauchery before that happens, some of it brilliantly hilarious (including the best-scripted cockeyed exchanges since 'you're a funny guy') some of it... less so. There are some things in life no-one needs to see: cocaine being snorted from a prostitute's bottom is one of them.
But hell, the film's based on Belfort's own memoirs, and as he's now a sales trainer and motivational speaker trading on his past success, he's hardly going to linger on the prison part. Crime, it appears, for Belfort at least, continues to pay, although not quite as lucratively as it did.
Leonardo DiCaprio gives a staggeringly committed performance: whether oozing 1980s American dream charm, he's writhing on the floor from a quaalude overdose, screaming and spluttering in a marital rage, or bathing in the adoration of a workforce who view him as some kind of cult leader demi-god, he is always utterly convincing. More cleverly, DiCaprio also conveys the way in which, beneath the dazzling charisma, there's a hard, cold core of... nothingness. No moral values, no love, no real personality. Strip away the money and all it buys, the drugs, the fancy suits, the yachts and helicopters and Ferraris (because Belfort isn't just good at making money, he's good at spending it too – you certainly won't find him buying a carwash) and underneath he is – as he himself comes close to acknowledging near the end of the film – boring.
Yes, The Wolf of Wall Street is a fantastic film, and after three hours you certainly feel as if you've been vicariously swimming in the sexist, narcotic-filled, dog eat dog (or goldfish, actually) pool of Stratton Oakmont. But you may well feel you need a shower when you get out. Slick and enthralling as Belfort's sales spiel, it masks a similar soulless emptiness. And for that reason, while I found the film hugely entertaining, I'm never going to love it.