With a charismatically decadent Leonardo DiCaprio going at full throttle in the central role, The Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorsese’s giddy biopic of stockbroker swindler Jordan Belfort, has all the dazzle and pizzazz of his classic gangster movies – only this time the crooks on screen are pumping and dumping worthless stocks rather than bodies.
The greed and recklessness is the same, though, as DiCaprio’s fast-talking anti-hero and his growing team of eager underlings rip off gullible investors in the early 1990s, splurging the huge sums they make on a hedonistic lifestyle that would make Caligula blush.
It’s exhilarating to watch. Scorsese brings a darkly comic brio to the scenes of coke-snorting, hooker-consorting, dwarf-throwing excess; DiCaprio unexpectedly proves to be a brilliant physical comedian (the hands-down hilarious scene in which the drug-addled, physically wasted Belfort attempts to open the door of his Lamborghini with his foot will leave you equally helpless with laughter); and the supporting performances from the likes of Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey and, yes, Joanna Lumley have real fizz.
Yet enjoyment of the film leaves a nasty aftertaste. Nothing we see on screen suggests that Jordan Belfort is anything other than a vile, sleazy, morally repellent human being, but the fact that he’s the subject of a Scorsese biopic starring Leonardo DiCaprio gives him an undeserved glamour.
In the end, The Wolf of Wall Street comes across as more celebratory than satirical. And when Belfort delivers his rousing pep talks to his staff, you can’t help but detect a sneaking admiration for this anti-hero – as the City whiz kids who are reportedly packing out private screenings of the film in London will assuredly confirm.
Certificate 18. Runtime 180 mins. Director Martin Scorsese.