The Wolf of Wall Street is a long film about self-centered people getting fucked up, fucked over, or just plain fucked.
It’s a film all about the glory of excess, the kind of consequence-free decadence that a big bank balance can bring. We follow Leonardo DiCaprio’s likeably dislikeable stock trader Jordan Belfort as he rises from the ashes of the 1987 stock market crash, working his way back to the high life of neon extravagance and insincerity.
Adapted from the memoir of the real life Jordan Belfort, apparently without too much embellishment, the main feeling I left the film with was “that would’ve worked better as a miniseries”. It covers a solid ten year or so period. In pulling events from Belfort’s life to construct a tighter narrative arc of the rise and fall, it ends up feeling somewhat disjointed.
Not that any of the film is actually bad. This is well written, stylish, frequently very funny stuff, and the huge cast (full of “oh it’s him/her!” faces) is incredibly game. DiCaprio as Belfort is superb fun – a riches-stunted adolescent who preens and pouts his way across the screen, devouring scenery like a foppish black hole, with just enough realism sprinkled through the performance that his smaller realer moments in the fall part of the story don’t feel unearned or even unexpected.
Generally as big and bold as its subject matter, direction is also strong, my favourite touch being the use of music; 80s tunes designating success, 90s songs hinting at change.
Again though, I can’t help but feel the tale would have been better told over a six hour, six part miniseries. The film does have a kinetic hyperactivity that would certainly have been lost stretching the story out, but it would have benefited from more time to develop some characters and scenes (in particular, the collapse of Belfort’s second marriage feels like a largely untapped seam). The film sits a shade under three hours, jam-packed as it is with myriad characters and stories all coming and going. If you catch it at the cinema, get a big bag of popcorn; this is a bum-numbing undertaking.
The Wolf of Wall Street is garish, aggressively sexual, hugely hedonistic, pretty funny, and certainly worth a watch. Whether you’ll want to return for a second viewing is another matter entirely.