Let’s be clear from the outset: The Wolf of Wall Street is not a “scathing indictment of capitalism run amok” or a “cautionary fable for our time” or any of the comparable high-minded plaudits that are likely to be thrown its way. Yes, Martin Scorsese’s new feature is undeniably topical: the story of a rogue Wall Street trader, Jordan Belfort, who made himself and his partners fabulously wealthy at the expense of the broader American public and got off—even after multiple fraud convictions—nearly scot-free. But the film displays almost no interest whatsoever in Belfort’s victims, and it is extravagantly incurious regarding the mechanisms by which he took their money. If this is a message movie, it’s one that features a message suitable for a cue card.
None of which, incidentally, is intended as an indictment. The Wolf of Wall Street is a magnificent black comedy, fast, funny, and remarkably filthy. Like a Bad Santa, Scorsese has offered up for the holidays a truly wicked display of cinematic showmanship—one that also happens to be among his best pictures of the last 20 years.
Based on the memoirs of the real-life Belfort, the story follows his meteoric rise from a penny-stock broker operating out of a strip mall in the late 1980s to a twentysomething tycoon, complete with mansions, a lingerie-model wife, a yacht nearly the size of the QE2, a helicopter, and two bodyguards—“both of them named Rocco.” Oh, and drugs and hookers. Lots of drugs and hookers. The latter he estimates he frolicked with five or six times a week on average. The former included Quaaludes, Adderall, Xanax, pot, cocaine (of course), and morphine “because it’s awesome.”