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The Wolf of Wall Street Review

4 Jan

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

Jordan Belfort, high out of his mind on Quaaludes, crawls out of a country club; he’s foaming at the mouth, flopping around like a dying fish, and mumbling incoherently. He lives less than a mile away, but he can barely get the door of his Lamborghini open. Yet, he somehow makes it home perfectly fine. The thing is, the trip home plays out very differently in his mind; it’s later revealed that not only is his car busted up, but he’s caused a large amount of property damage.

That right there is the essence of the film. On the one hand, it’s a hilarious, brilliantly acted setpiece that we can laugh at. On the other hand, it emphasizes the delusions of a man high off drugs, women, money, and power. We can’t forget that this story is told through Belfort’s point of view, and Jordan Belfort isn’t a good guy at all. He has no regard for the law, he destroys all his relationships, and he manipulates those around him, whether he calls them “friends” or not. He can spew out a seemingly deep, emotional tale about the “rags to riches” backstory of one of his brokers, but in reality, she’s just an investment. He can try and save his buddy’s skin with a message on a napkin, but he’ll be the one ratted out at the end; he has no friends.

Of course, that brings us to the questions: Why did Scorsese and Winter essentially just remake the book? Why not explore the victims of Belfort’s heinous crimes, the innocent people swindled out of a hell of a lot of cash by a callous maniac? Why not come right out and condemn this behavior? What’s with all the collaboration with the actual Belfort?

Well, it seems as if Scorsese wanted to strike at something deeper here, an attempt at social commentary that could, admittedly, get lost in the shuffle. I’m not saying this is a deep movie–much of it is superficial–but it seems silly to be solely arguing over the director’s morals and glorification (which is a BS charge, by the way) when there are things we can poke at below the surface. They’re there, and it’s the audience’s job to find them. Perhaps we don’t because, in the end, Scorsese’s biggest indictment is of the audience. He ends the film in the way that it begins: with a vision of perfection, a prerecorded video of greedy, eager faces caught in the spell of a fantasy. In a way, we’re all the victims. As for the actual people he swindled money away from, I don’t think we need to see them to understand the implications of his actions.

Of course, that’s not to say a reasonably intelligent person can’t pick up on this theme (I’m sure there will still, sadly, be people who will be inspired by this movie and head home, pick up a few hookers along the way, and snort coke off of their bodies). It’s a simple message; Scorsese’s saying that there’s some part of us that wants to be Jordan Belfort, and it’s due to the corruption in our society that a guy like him would only get 3 years in prison. A different ending would only ring false in this story.

Is this story predictable? Yes. Is this social commentary something new? Not really. Nevertheless, the film’s infectious energy caught me and strung me along for the ride. The cast is impeccable–Leo gives a bombastic, exhilarating performance–and there are some brilliant, brilliant scenes in there. Of course, there are cuts that should’ve been made, but weren’t; no matter how much we say “But excess is the point!”, sometimes it doesn’t excuse the mind-numbing repetitiveness of the film.

In fact, “mind-numbing” is a perfect word for Wolf. It simultaneously immerses you in its world and slowly leaves you emotionally distant. Most of these characters are scumbags, and even the moral, law-abiding FBI agent (played by a brilliant Kyle Chandler) feels a twinge of unfulfillment at the end. The shot on the subway is pretty devastating, even given the lack of a fair amount of screen time for Denham; still, I rooted for him throughout the whole thing. Anyway, what the film does with Belfort’s character is initially make him semi-likable, a naive, eager, young businessman learning the tricks of the trade from Mark Hanna (a scene-stealing Matthew McConaughey). That doesn’t last long, and by the time he rapes his wife and steals their kid, we feel nothing but contempt for him. Rightfully so. It’s a story about addiction: addiction to sex, drugs, money, you name it, and it both invites the audience to be addicted and to recoil from the excess. Whether the film completely succeeds in balancing the compelling with the repulsive is questionable, but it certainly succeeds as a scathing indictment of Jordan Belfort and a very entertaining ride as a movie.

GRADE: A-

OTHER THOUGHTS:

-You aren’t doing any favors to yourself by giving Belfort a cameo, Scorsese. I don’t agree with many of the criticisms of the movie, but I can certainly see where they’re coming from. We needed a few more subtle moments like the “my car’s not red, it’s white” moment at the beginning to fully cement this as a sort of satire.

-The comedy approach was probably the best way to go here because you can’t really portray these guys as anything else than they really were: bumbling fools who got rich. I think the movie does a nice job of balancing the humiliation with the macho man antics; Leo’s either high out of his mind and acting like an idiot or pounding his chest and yelling. Raises the question of who he really is. It’s the same for the woman who got her head shaved; it’s all humiliation amidst the fun.

-That yacht scene…oh, that yacht scene. Kyle Chandler and Leo are perfect there with the undertones and the false grins and the everything.

-Margot Robbie holds her own as Naomi, and Cristin Milioti plays one of the more sympathetic characters in the movie; she’s very good, too.

-Rob Reiner’s funny in this, even if his character ends up being fairly inconsequential. In fact, because this is from Belfort’s POV, a lot of characters get pushed aside.

-Even Jean Dujardin’s Saurel is a greedy, manipulative bastard under that facade of respectability and class.

-My favorite sequence of scenes probably has to be the first half hour or so. It’s really enjoyable watching Belfort’s team navigating the stock world for the first time, and Belfort’s first penny stock sale (with a cameo by Spike Jonze!) is fantastic.

-Jonah Hill’s great as Donnie Azoff, and although he’s largely played for comic relief, he has some nice, more nuanced scenes toward the end.

-The film goes off on tangents a bit too much.

-There was a surprisingly low amount of laughter in our theater crowd. I take that as a good sign. To be honest, I didn’t find it as funny as a lot of other people did.

How do these people not just drop dead? Holy shit.

Photo credit: Paramount Pictures, Red Granite Productions, The Wolf of Wall Street

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2 Responses to “The Wolf of Wall Street Review”

  1. JustMeMike January 5, 2014 at 9:03 am #

    Very fine review – pb. Thanks.

    I think it is easy to criticize TWOWS. Not that your points aren’t valid. The film was excessively long and that’s on top of being excessive in nearly everything else. I guess greed is, as Gordon Gekko famously said – good. But I think that greed is also a disease without a cure.

    Nice last comment in your review – as this was my experience too. Sometimes rather than being in a crowded laugh-filled theater, it seemed that one could turn and see the few that laughed. Maybe x number of people in the theater dozed off, or maybe they disapproved so strongly that they couldn’t laugh.

    I gave the film my highest rating (a 5.0) not because I approved of Belfort’s lifestyle, or dreamed of living in a similar way myself. But rather, I gave the rating because Leonard’s performance was simply that great.

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