The film starts with a short montage giving a taster of the life of excesses, luxuries, sex and drugs of stockbroker Jordan Belfort (played brilliantly by Leonardo DiCaprio). We then wind back to him starting out on Wall Street as a trainee for an established firm. What he experienced in that first day shapes the rest of his entire career. He loves the buzz of the office, the disrespectful and foul-mouthed culture, and when his boss meets him for lunch he is eager to be guided: “Move the money from your client’s pocket into your pocket”. He takes Jordan’s desire for wealth, points him I’m the right direction and gives him a kick up the ass.
However, shortly afterwards there is a stock market crash and Jordan finds himself jobless almost before his career has started. He manages to find a job for a small firm selling penny stocks, taking advantage of the desperate and making a 50% cut. His gift of the gab salesmanship has the office enthralled from the first day and Jordan is on the rise again, shortly setting up his own firm with his new right hand man Donnie (also excellently played by Jonah Hill) and a band of old mates who he can mould into his form, speaking from the office floor to his acolytes into a microphone with the crazed fever of a cult preacher. It is this arc that sustains most of the film’s running time.
Along the way Jordan hires his father, Mad Max, to stifle the worst of his excesses and that of the management team, but this is a futile role as the parties, drugs, prostitutes and spending goes through the roof. He is introduced to us in a hilarious scene at home in just one of the very funny moments in the film. It has a fast-paced, dynamic, darkly comic, sometimes slapstick feel as the protagonists lurch from one caper to the next. It’s not a film to watch with your parents though – swearing, naked flesh, drug taking in every scene – and it does lack strong female representation (perhaps a little inevitably as it is based on the true story of a male stockbroker in the late 80s) but Margot Robbie and Joanna Lumley do play female characters who have strength and self respect.
Entirely without morals, Jordan is only motivated by greed and the adulation of his workers and the interesting thing is that there is no progression in his character at all from the moment he picks up the phone at his first job to the last shot of the film. He is a train wreck waiting to happen for a long time, but he can’t resist standing on top of the carriage and whooping as it flies along the tracks. The only person who appears to have a moment of self-reflection (and regret almost) is the FBI agent investigating Jordan after the whole affair is over.
Rather than being a critique or glamorisation of Jordan’s life, it is more a comment on the industry and society that is allowing this sort of situation to occur, but it’s a fun ride!
4 on 5
Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin, Joanna Lumley
UK Release: 17th January 2014