Martin Scorsese's latest film, "The Wolf of Wall Street," hit theaters over the holiday and was met with very interesting reactions. In some corners, it's an unqualified masterpiece, willfully overt and satirical in its depiction of greed and excess. In others, it's an irresponsible culprit that appears to be delighting in the wild ride it depicts.

For the film's producer and star Leonardo DiCaprio, it is a bit of both, as the sheer entertainment of the piece isn't meant to be at odds with its social indictment. That, in some ways, is the horror of it. But it certainly isn't the first Scorsese film to cause a stir upon release and it won't likely be the last.

DiCaprio recently spoke to HitFix about the high ambition of the project, the gobsmacked reaction it has received and how not just his work in "The Wolf of Wall Street," but his involvement in Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby" earlier this year and Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" in 2012 have all been an examination of a shared theme: pursuit of a corrupted American dream.


HitFix: I don't know if you recall but we spoke after the Golden Globes last year when you were in the middle of filming "The Wolf of Wall Street" and you told me you thought it was going to be your best work. Does it feel that way now that the whole thing has finally come to fruition?

Leonardo DiCaprio: I think that at least the attempt going into it was to try to do something really outside of the box and I think Marty had the same approach. Every time we wanted to make a choice to go into a sort of traditional story structure or make choices for the characters that were things that we've seen in films before, we tried to do something a little different. In that regard I feel very proud of this performance. I think we took a lot of chances, and no matter what people think of the movie, we swung for the fences on this one. That's what I'm really excited about and happy that we just had the opportunity to do, to tell you the truth, because I've been in this business for a long period of time and certainly when you're doing an epic of this scale, you don't get an opportunity to do that very often. That was in large part due to the people that were financing this, who said, "We want to take this chance. We think there's a marketplace for something like this." I keep referencing "Caligula" but you think about "Scarface," films like that, I don't know how people are going to react to it right off the bat, but I think as the years roll by people will appreciate what we were trying to do here.

Well that's what's interesting because, like a great many of Scorsese's movies, this one is being met with a touch of controversy right off the bat for its depiction of excess. There are those who see it as more of an irresponsible glorification than a satirical takedown. What's your response to that?

I think anyone who thinks that missed the boat entirely. I grew up in a generation of watching Marty's movies and when you come from a standpoint of being someone who is so influenced by him and De Niro's work, to hear specific reactions they had to films that, now, as the years roll by — we're all desensitized to those things, you know what I'm saying? To hear that there were any type of reactions that weren't — I'm not saying people should particularly praise this film for that reason, but I think it takes a while to permeate into the culture a little bit. When I see his movies now, it's a shock to me that there was ever any kind of — I mean I listened to stories of "The Last Temptation of Christ." I listened to stories of "Goodfellas" and "Taxi Driver" and even "Mean Streets," but to me they're a classic part of American cinema history that have influenced so many other filmmakers and so many other genres. It's insane.

It's exciting to be a part of a film, in a way, that is kind of bold and is taking a chance like that, and I think that anyone that thinks this is a celebration of Wall Street and this sort of hedonism — yes, the unique thing about Marty is that he doesn't judge his characters. And that was something that you don't quite understand while you're making the movie, but he allows the freedom of this almost hypnotic, drug-infused, wild ride that these characters go on. And he allows you, as an audience — guilty or not — to enjoy in that ride without judging who these people are. Because ultimately, he keeps saying this: "Who am I to judge anybody?" I mean ultimately I think if anyone watches this movie, at the end of "Wolf of Wall Street," they're going to see that we're not at all condoning this behavior. In fact we're saying that this is something that is in our very culture and it needs to be looked at and it needs to be talked about. Because, to me, this attitude of what these characters represent in this film are ultimately everything that's wrong with the world we live in.

It's "warts and all." It's, "Here it is. Can you believe it? Can you handle it?"

It's true, and, look, I'm going to be 40 years old, but I see the new generations — of course there are a lot of very conscious minds out there that want to do good for the world, but there's this incessant need for consumerism and wanting more and wanting to give into every indulgence that is more rampant than ever. That shift doesn't seem to be happening in the evolution of our species. It just seems to be getting larger and larger. So yeah, to me, look, this movie is incredibly entertaining. But what we're talking about is, to me, a very serious subject. That's the best way I can put it.

Kristopher Tapley has covered the film awards landscape for over a decade. He founded In Contention in 2005. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Times of London and Variety. He begs you not to take any of this too seriously.