The Wolf of Wall Street – film review

They got off with fines, prison sentences and social outlawing. Now is the time for the true punishing of the Wall Street malefactors: an epic-length Martin Scorsese film. It will be hard for culprits to watch The Wolf of Wall Street. It’s hard for anyone. It’s like being hit over the head for 179 minutes by a cocaine-overdosed Statue of Liberty.

Scorsese defends truth, justice and decency while offering, simultaneously, all the fun of the unfair. He wants us to condemn the brokers while giggling in admiring outrage at their chutzpah and dishonesty. Here are the sleaze and lies – mega-sleaze, ultra-lies – of true-life multimillionaire Jordan Belfort, on whose post-jail memoirs Terence (Boardwalk Empire) Winter based his script. Parties, orgies, drug benders: all on an endless loop. Criminal scams. More orgies, more cocaine. “Tsk, tsk; but wow, wow” is the movie’s motto. We can have our coke and snort it. While condemning the stoner madness of the rich, we can all but sniff and lick it ourselves, not to mention blowing it in powder form up the apertures of – no, we’d better not mention that.

As “fun” the film is punishingly samey. Every time I looked at my watch, the hands seemed to have stayed still. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Belfort as the Gatsby we didn’t see – Fitzgerald’s scummy acquisitor before he became a romantic party host – and even wears the same pink suits. DiCaprio does everything cleverly and exuberantly while never building the character’s interest. His quippy voiceover cynicisms – “Their money was better off in my pockets. I knew how to spend it better” – amuse us for a while. But a while isn’t three hours with no variation, no rubato and, in contrast to other Scorsese mega-structures (Goodfellas, Casino), no sense of structure.

Didn’t the parade go by, anyway, before this film reached our screens? The Wolf of Wall Street is so Noughties. Been there, done that, got the Enron prison shirts. With a Scorsese film one hoped the cinema of white-collar crime would turn a new page. Maybe Mammon-Elegiac; or the Sins of the City Fathers (who let it happen); or capitalism as Good Dynamo undone by Bad Desperadoes. Something, anything, other than one more badass Satyricon, foaming with narcotics and tokenised with a punitive ending after the walloping fun for the envying classes.

By the way, the collector’s version of The Wolf of Wall Street, and if Scorsese gets wise the Director’s Version, will consist of just one scene. It is by far the best: it comes at the beginning and says everything crisply that doesn’t need to be shoutily repeated over and over. Matthew McConaughey, never better, has a shark-featured cameo as young Belfort’s first-day mentor. He is totally hilarious, a lean, airy-gestured, epigrammatic, mad-as-a-fox cynic and crypto-sociopath: just the man to ensure good order in Moneyville as the young striped shirts learn to get in formation with the striped coke lines.

Letter in response to this review:

Those go-go days of unabashed greed

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