And for once, DiCaprio is not playing anyone who is insane or carefully wooing a pretty girl or keeping a few cards up his sleeve. He's flinging his cards around, a whirling dervish of a broker with the magnetism and reckless abandon of Tom Cruise's evil genius/motivational speaker in Magnolia. Someone finally let him just go for it, and by gum, he sure is. (It's not just him—the movie's populated by great performances all around, from Jonah Hill to Rob Reiner to the weirdest Matthew McConaughey ever and dozens more.)
Basically, if you Google "off the hook," you'll get redirected to Wolf's IMDB page.
In what seems almost too obvious a comparison, Wolf is the film that this summer's Great Gatsby probably ought have been, if it was being honest. In both, DiCaprio plays a wildly lonely man who, dissatisfied with his working-class upbringings, reinvents himself as moneyed elite, new money who can throw the biggest parties, buy his friends, and make everyone love him. But whereas Gatsby played it safe and thereby undercut the level of insanity that both gave the '20s their name and made the crash of 1929 so tragic, Wolf goes all out, turning it up to eleven. (It's worth noting Belfort's similarity to Mad Men's Don Draper, too; here's our piece on Gatsby and Draper from earlier this year.)
But Gatsby's failures aside, it's important to note that both films do more than merely indict their protagonists. They chronicle periods of our recent history (the Roaring Twenties and Roaring Nineties) in which it was possible to reinvent oneself and become one of the big dogs without much fear of repercussion.
This is important, for two main reasons. First, as Wolf makes clear, Belfort has suffered, but it's more his pride that's taken a hit than anything else. As he points out, being wealthy insulates him from most of the consequences of his actions. Sure, Belfort went to prison, but his time there was suspiciously close to the proverbial walk in the park. And just this October, federal prosecutors filed a complaint against Belfort because he's made nearly $2 million in sales of his memoirs, movie rights, and motivational speaking engagements in the last six years, but paid out only a fraction of the restitution requirement mandated by his sentencing agreement. According to Businessweek, the government is not holding Belfort in default of his payments, in order to keep negotiations open. It seems at least troublesome that this is true.
And that brings up the second reason this is important: Gatsby gets rich from shady deals in bootlegging during Prohibition. Adams/Diggler gets rich from his work making pornography. Both men provide a vice that people want in order to fulfill a desire for something gone out of control.