Irreverent, garish, self-referential, and uproarious, The Wolf of Wall Street is an enervating analysis of immorality and an episodic portrait of loathsome men and rapaciousness, in which decadence escalates into debauchery and debauchery escalates into depravity.
Director Martin Scorsese (The Departed, Hugo) and writer Terence Winter refashion renowned Wall Street broker Jordan Belfort’s memoir into sensational entertainment. It’s the late 1980s, and Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), a 22-year-old hotshot given whirlwind training at the hands of Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), starts his own trading company out of an abandoned auto shop and churns it into a multimillion-dollar enterprise selling worthless penny stocks to the top 1%. His cavorting poolside existence with ravishing wife Naomi Lapaglia (newcomer Margot Robbie) is only disrupted by the intentions of FBI agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler), by whom he is finally collared after he refuses to cooperate in the larger securities fraud case.
Topping his gleefully unhinged performance as Calvin Candie in Django Unchained, DiCaprio gives a star turn so electric it could wake the dead. While Belfort’s a despicable character throughout – foul-mouthed, arrogant, manipulative, dishonest, abusive – DiCaprio’s performance is the most deranged thing he’s ever put on screen. As DiCaprio’s voiceovers shepherd gawkers through Belfort’s fantasia of obscene profit, he is an alluring Caligula, and positively reptilian. One is both horrified and enchanted by this monster in Armani. Watching him tumble down the stairs of a country club or pour cocaine into his nose before giving Donnie – his manic, pill-popping sidekick played by Jonah Hill (Superbad, Moneyball) – CPR is a ludicrous riot.
Wolf is rambunctious, unruly, abashed, disgusting, and rampantly over-the-top. Stratton Oakmont is awash with amped-up tomfoolery and brazen amorality, replete with hookers, drugs, bribery, and live goldfish-swallowing. Belfort is a repellent and spellbinding knucklehead, and two extended speeches provide evidence of his pull for the “losers” he teaches to be the best.
The film’s feverish pace is hell-bent on making the audience feel like they just snorted a mountain of blow. You can practically feel your teeth grinding to dust. As with any high, it also doesn’t know when to stop. It tires you out with its hammering excess. Its smash-and-grab editing, swooping photography, and toe-tapping soundtrack conspire to demolish your defenses. It lacks the wildness of Taxi Driver, the anguish of Raging Bull, and the jeopardy of GoodFellas.
The Wolf of Wall Street is headache-inducing and infectiously dynamic, a veritable orgy of testosterone-fueled lewdness. It is the craziest movie to be released this year, and proof that Scorsese, at 71, is not slowing down yet.