If the success of Netflix’s House of Cards has told anything, it’s that there’s an almost insatiable desire to cheer on anti-heroes, fascinated at the unfathomable depths to which they will plummet in order to get ahead. That’s our reaction. Bankers on the other hand, have apparently brayed like frat-boys at Belfort’s exploits.
To be fair, Martin Scorsese’s film does take a long time to get to its moralising. After two hours of what appears to be a Conservative Party recruitment video, things get a lot darker in the final act, when the weight of iniquity takes it toll. The Wolf of Wall Street charts the rise and rise and rise and fall-ish of Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), from his nascent talent for broking in 1987 (under Matthew McConaughey’s Mark Hanna, in his only (electrifying) scene), to the setting up of his own firm after Black Monday, and through to a life of yachts, high-class office sex, midget-tossing, and Herculean quantities of drugs.
Inevitably, the movie plays as a remastered version of Goodfellas. All Scorsese’s devices are imported wholesale to this feature; the near constant score, MOS montages, the breathless, chapterless sequencing. DiCaprio’s range as an actor creaks and groans at the seams as he attempts to match his director’s capacity for sheer artistry, but never he quite convinces in the way the rest of the ensemble cast seem to. Scorsese is the master of operatic Greek tragedy though, and sometimes it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the outright scale and magnitude of the narrative.