The film has been hailed as a potential awards-season contender, and already has two Golden Globe nominations in the bag. But the tale of a corrupt, drug-taking 90s stockbroker has come in for criticism from victims of financial fraud, conservative Oscar voters and animal rights groups, among others. DiCaprio, who portrays the titular fraudster, Jordan Belfort, and helped bring the project to the big screen as a producer, said filmgoers should not mistake the movie's depiction of hedonistic criminality for an endorsement of that behaviour.
"This film may be misunderstood by some; I hope people understand we're not condoning this behaviour, that we're indicting it," he told Variety in a rare interview. "The book was a cautionary tale and if you sit through the end of the film, you'll realise what we're saying about these people and this world, because it's an intoxicating one.
"I think it's amazing somebody like Martin Scorsese is still making films that are vital and talked about, and have an element of controversy about them and are appealing to people of my generation. We grew up watching his films and he's still making stuff that's punk rock. It's an amazing achievement."
The Wolf of Wall Street is based on the real-life exploits of Belfort, founder of discredited 1990s Long Island brokerage house Stratton Oakmont. The daughter of a man linked to the discredited financial schemes depicted in the film attacked Scorsese and DiCaprio for glamorising a lifestyle of "fun sexcapades and coke binges". The director and star also found themselves heckled at an Oscars screening earlier this month, and have faced criticism from an animal rights group calling for a boycott over the use of a live chimp in one of the film's scenes of Wall Street excess.
Nevertheless, DiCaprio said he hoped audiences would appreciate the hard work put in by the film-makers in bringing such an unorthodox confection to the big screen. "People – no matter what their attitude is after seeing the film – should understand this is a film that's outside the box and is very difficult to get done in this day and age; it almost never happens," he said. "That in its own right is commendable. I'm proud that films like this can still be somehow made; that's in huge part due to our financiers, who said, 'Look, we understand that studios are doing a certain type of film but we believe there is an audience for films that don't fit the criteria for a blockbuster but deserve to get made.' Thank God there are people who have taste for experimental film-making at this level and who really want to endorse this type of film. Because if it weren't for them, we wouldn't see any types of film like this."
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