Martin Scorsese’s 23rd feature, and fifth with current muse DiCaprio, is just like its main character; it pulls no punches, pushes the boundaries of good taste and is as controversial as they come. As real life stockbroker/swindler Jordan Belfort, we live through every aspect of his drugs and sex fuelled life as he spirals ever more into depravity and loves every second of it.
To compare this to Goodfellas, as everyone seems to have, does the film a bit of a disservice as it more than stands on its own two feet, but the comparisons are unavoidable. Voiceovers, eclectic soundtracks and the basic premise (only exchanging gangsters for bankers) are all hallmarks of Scorsese’s previous film and it also follows the same beats – the rise and fall – but the main difference is that this film is very very funny. Riotously so, in fact. You may feel bad for laughing, but laugh you will. The antics Belfort and co get up to are not the most morally sound but, whether it’s discussing the legal ramifications of midget tossing or taking enough drugs to kill an elephant, the results are never more than darkly hilarious with the standout being DiCaprio utilising a hitherto unseen knack for physical comedy.
DiCaprio is on stunning (Oscar winning?) form here, throwing himself into the scenes with wild abandon with echoes of his two most recent performances – Calvin Candie in Django Unchained and Gatsby in The Great Gatsby – to help him play the most love to hate/hate to love figure he has played yet. He learns nothing, changes little and cares nothing for the people he’s screwing over in his single minded quest to become ever richer, yet is a character from whom you cannot tear your eyes away.
As the (perhaps unreliable?) narrator we only see what Belfort wants us to see and as such the film is far less concerned with showing us how he made all this the money and more focused on what Belfort and his employees did with it. Namely, everything they could. There are no limits to the debauchery, and Scorsese is slow to judge the lifestyle of those involved, and instead lets us revel in the excess only to make you feel complicit yourself. “Oh sorry, were you enjoying the terrible things this man was doing? Well, you shouldn’t have been.” And by the time the FBI take an interest you realise that up until now the film hasn’t really been about anything but the excess. Which one assumes is the point. There’s nothing as heavy handed as an outright condemnation of the current situation with banks and bankers but it’s in there if you want to look for it.
DiCaprio is ably supported by an also excellent Jonah Hill as his second in command, Margot Robbie transforms from trophy wife to beating heart of the film and Matthew McConaughey turns in a fabulous extended cameo as Belfort’s unscrupulous Wall Street mentor.
A ludicrously entertaining, soul destroying morality tale. It’s Goodfellas by way of Oliver Stone’s Wall Street with a bit of American Psycho in there as well. A word of warning though; it’s not for the easily offended or those with delicate sensibilities.
Review by Jonathan Cardwell.
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