Fun romp, but it lacks moral power

Fun romp, but it lacks moral power

The Wolf of Wall Street (R21)
Drama/175 minutes/Opens today
Rating: 3.5/5

The story: Based on the memoirs of convicted trader Jordan Belfort, this film chronicles Belfort's (Leonardo DiCaprio) start at a reputable stockbroking firm, charting his rise (or descent, if you prefer) through fraud and bribery, fuelled by Olympian quantities of cocaine, Quaaludes and sex. Along the way, he recruits Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) and divorces his first wife for a second, Naomi Lapaglia (Margot Robbie). FBI agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) is assigned to investigate Belfort and his confederates.

Gangsters and Wall Street scumbags: Hollywood loves to make movies about them because they are fond of behaving badly and have the money to sin on a properly cinematic scale.

Director Martin Scorsese dives into the true story of Jordan Belfort with gusto, presenting a parade of debauchery rarely seen outside soft-porn depictions of the Roman empire at its naughtiest.

Whether they actually happened or not, much of the excess depicted here is grotesque.

The crassest kind of frat party breaks out in the halls of Belfort's stockbroking agency, Stratton Oakmont, given the slightest excuse.

The men celebrate with the help of prostitutes, cocaine, dwarves and a semi-naked marching band, but none of it looks like very much fun because the traders are addicts, consuming everything but taking no pleasure from the act.

Belfort is given to analysing, with equal connoisseurship, the varieties and prices of both hookers and pills.

Written by Terence Winter (who has written for The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire television shows, both featuring amoral, charismatic male characters) and adapted from Belfort's own memoirs, this is Scorsese indicting a financial system that gives the keys to the kingdom to a coterie of gambling fiends, persons who as Belfort himself says, desire to "conquer the world and eviscerate the enemy".

The enemy is any citizen weak or stupid enough to be duped by their lies, a teaching the gangsters of Scorsese's Goodfellas (1990) would be at home with.

DiCaprio is a likeable presence - indeed too likeable, so taking away from the film's moral power.

As picaresque adventures go, Wolf is a fun romp, but hours of men whooping, crashing expensive toys and snorting powder is a lot to take.

One wishes that Belfort had been as creative in his debauches as he had been in his pump- and-dump schemes.

This article by The Straits Times was published in MyPaper,  a free, bilingual newspaper published by Singapore Press Holdings.

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