As the credits rolled on Scorsese’s latest, I did something I don’t believe I have ever done before in the cinema. I winked at the screen. Winked. It was a completely involuntary reaction to what is essentially three hours of splendidly naughty fun. I bloody loved it.
Leonardo DiCaprio is in his element here – giving one of his best performances as Wall Street bigwig Jordan Belfort whose life Scorsese has captured in all its excessive, sexist and utterly grotesque glory. He’s a bit like a cartoon baddie, blasting his way through the film with his tail on fire, leaving a trail of dirty doings behind him, entirely unrepentant. He’s a bad man, surrounded by other bad men and some quite bad women too. They’re all having a ball, especially Belfort’s closest ally Donnie Azoff, (an also superb Jonah Hill) a man who can’t believe the way his life has turned out and fully intends to make the most of it while it lasts. Both actors deserve all the plaudits they’ve been receiving – they go all out here, but stay just the right side of caricature. Which is no mean feat, given that much of the film is out and out comedy.
DiCaprio and Hill steal the film, but there’s also a blistering Matthew McConaughey cameo, the divine Jean Dujardin pops up as a smarmy Swiss banker and there’s a slightly bizarre appearance from Joanna Lumley in a London straight off a 60s postcard. There are other women here too of course, who look nice but are somewhere on the outskirts of the story. Nothing here to match Lorraine Bracco or Sharon Stone’s gutsy roles, the women really are just eye candy. But that’s Belfort’s world, am not sure it is unavoidable – and this is based on his autobiography of course, so you know, it’s all about him and his idealised memories of the high life.
Belfort made his fortune by selling penny shares to people who couldn’t really afford them, his morals left in the box he cleared his Wall Street desk with on Black Monday. As his wealth and business grow, so did his ego – so much so that he failed to cover his back until it’s too late. But even when he’s down he’s not entirely out – there’s no crime doesn’t pay moral here, it clearly does sometimes.
But don’t misjudge Scorsese, he knows a thing or two about giving his audience a kick in the guts, and it comes here too right at the end in a scene on the subway with the FBI agent that finally nailed Belfort (a beautifully calm performance from Kyle Chandler). Of everything I saw over the three hours, this was the scene that stayed with me and prompted a sudden prick of tears. It’s that moment of truth that makes this such a great film – a jolting reminder of the people who paid for whatever Belfort stuck up his nose (or up a hooker’s bottom… imagine the casting call for that role).
So yes, I winked at the end. And a great big salacious wink it was too, this is a balls out, wave your willy about joy.