With a bright colour palette, brazen extravagance and lively soundtrack you’d be forgiven for expecting one of the most un-Scorsese-like films yet. While it’s certainly one of his most daring inventions, beneath the surface lays the familiar crime epic the great director made his name with.
The Wolf of Wall Street is a Casino of the modern day, but sees the director depart the mean streets of mafia era New York for the executive high rises of the late eighties to offer an outrageous character study that follows the impossibly elaborate lifestyles of its contemporary goodfellas. The sentiments of his gangster classics are elevated by a newfound absurdity and overindulgence to expertly capture these immoderate, designer drug fuelled financiers and the result is one of Scorsese’s greatest cinematic achievements.
Terence Winter adapts from Jordan Belfort’s own accounts to construct a sensational screenplay that chronicles the stock broker’s career from ambitious cub to ferocious wolf. It follows Belfort across two decades and through his indulgence in illegal trading, corruption, womanising and other excesses. But, the economic predator soon becomes prey to an FBI investigation and it isn’t long before his Wall Street empire collapses leaving him amongst the rubble of criminal charges, broken relationships and a life threatening drug addiction.
Stepping into Belfort’s shoes is a daunting task for any actor, but Leonardo DiCaprio rises to the challenge of a most demanding performance with the virtuosity of an actor at the height of his power. Supported by exceptional direction, a fantastic script and an exceptional support cast, DiCaprio flies off the rails to embrace the lunacy of such an unconventional role, from his long ranting monologues and frequent fourth wall breaking to intense sexual exploits and hard to believe scenarios. It’s a charming and adventurous turn that presents a conundrum to the audience as we find ourselves both enamoured by, but loathing the essence of his character.
Like Casino, it’s unsympathetically long, but Scorsese’s dynamic direction and Thelma Schoonmaker’s masterful edit makes this epic three hour character study feel only half as long. The Wolf of Wall Street might not be an immediate favourite, but it’s an unforgettable cinema experience that demands repeat viewings and personally I can’t wait to see it again, particularly the extended four-hour cut that has been announced for its DVD and BluRay release.