Hedonistic life seen as ultimate symbol of Scorsese’s America

You might imagine that The Wolf of Wall Street (Cert 18), based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, to be a morality tale.

He was a notorious stockbroker who scammed $200m in the Eighties and Nineties before being jailed for fraud and money laundering.

But director Martin Scorsese prefers to show it as the ultimate symbol of the American dream.

Deliberately, it seems, he and screenwriter Terence Winter do not at any point show the victims of the crime but prefer to concentrate fully on the greed and excess of the perpetrators.

With its extraordinary energy and excess, this is vintage Scorsese, and reminiscent of Good Fellas in the way that Leonardo DiCaprio frequently addresses the camera with a smug grin.

We accompany him as he acquires untold riches (an estimated $600m) which have brought him a huge mansion, yachts, cars helicopters, a trophy wife - and above all tons of drugs and scores of hookers.

The film shows all the frenzied sex, booze and drug-taking in exhausting detail over three hours so there is no risk of us empathising with Belfort and his cohorts but it does become hard to care what happens to him.

But then this is a film that by and large plays it for laughs and there are a few priceless scenes, many of them involving Belfort’s goofy No 2, Donnie Azoff, played by Jonah Hill At the centre of it all is an astonishing performance by DiCaprio as the unabashed villain of the tale, bravely baring all both literally and metaphorically.

There is support from Rob Reiner as his dad, Margot Robbie (once of Neighbours) as his second wife and Kyle Chandler as an FBI plod.

There are also cameos aplenty such as a barnstorming Matthew McConaughey as Belfort’s early mentor, and Joanna Lumley as an English milady who cheerfully becomes a cash mule for Belfort.

In its headlong rush to depict the high life (not for nothing does this have an 18 certificate), exactly how Belfort and his company made their money is rather glossed over.

We gather they artificially blew up the value of nearly worthless stock.

They then sold it on at a big profit, after which point the value dropped and the investors lost their money.

In order to cover their tracks they salted the money away in foreign bank accounts (an amusing cameo from The Artist’s Jean Dujardin as a Swiss banker).

But that comes across as secondary to the hedonistic lifestyle, as if that was the bigger crime.