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‘The Wolf of Wall Street:’ Stock Broken

Martin Scorsese decided a couple years ago, with Hugo, that from now on, he has to go big or go home. And in the case of The Wolf of Wall Street, big means three hours long and showered in cocaine. The Wolf of Wall Street stars a trim and psychotic Leo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort, a man of modest upbringing who gets a taste for greed and never looks back. It’s that classic tale of rags to riches to illegal riches to massive amounts of drugs and hookers to house arrest and back to rags again. Unfortunately, it’s a story that has become rote, and Jordan Belfort’s version of it isn’t unique anymore, or especially interesting.

The movie is based on Belfort’s book of the same name, a “tell-all” about his time on Wall Street. Belfort begins as the low man on the totem pole on Wall St., then starts his own firm, Stratton Oakmont. There are a couple inspired moments in that first section, and all of them come from Matthew McConaughey, who plays Belfort’s mentor, Mark Hanna. Belfort makes money fast and quickly becomes a more sociopathic version of Jay Gatsby, with a mansion on Long Island, Leo DiCaprio’s face, and all the luxury and excess in the world, which he uses to snare women and boats and snappy suits. The drugs are never-ending, as is the money. Jordan and his cohorts, lead by Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill, who is just as good as Leo, and Leo is pretty good) scheme a lot, snort a lot, sex a lot, and that’s about it. It’s so constantly outrageous that it becomes tedious. The fact that a lot of it is true just makes it more despicable.

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

Not every film about greed and excess needs to necessarily end with a tidy lesson, but if you’re taking three hours of my life, say something. The Wolf of Wall Street, instead, is paced like a poorly written autobiography, each scene only saying, “Then this happened next,” and little else. Now, if the film was cinematic in a specific way, or edited…at all, to convey a certain point of view, Belfort’s or not, its contents, the lavish, violent, manic money-wasting, could have been justified, could have pointed toward some conclusion other than just the chronological end of Belfort’s “reign.”

It’s clear that the script is a fairly literal adaptation of the book; Jordan narrates, full of ego and smarm but little charm or wit. Nothing about this character is appealing or forgivable, really. We never sympathize with him or even see where he’s coming from. He fucks up badly all the time, mostly while wasted out of his mind. And the film is shiny and noisy and circus-like and he gets caught but he doesn’t get ruined. There has been controversy over this film seeming to “glorify” this life, and though I come from the mindset that it’s just a movie and people getting that up in arms about it is pretty silly, the filmmakers don’t do themselves any favors. It’s spectacle without substance. A parade of wealth for the sake of parading wealth. It’s Jordan Belfort’s way of life, which clearly didn’t change when he got busted. It’s the story of a man who never learned his lesson, never progressed, making the three hours of shit he puts himself and the audience through kind of all for nothing.

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

In the final scene, Jordan Belfort is introduced at one of those conventions for people who think they can learn to get rich by going to conventions. Leo’s Jordan Belfort is brought to the stage in an off-putting cameo by the real Jordan Belfort. The real Belfort introduces Leo’s Jordan, with a creepy smile and an obvious, overwhelming love for himself. It’s a bizarre choice. Scorsese just spent three hours showing us Belfort dicking off in front of a microphone, displaying a man whose ego and hunger for money and drugs should have destroyed his career, let alone his life,  and here he is, in front of us, so clearly and unabashedly in love with being on screen.

As Leo’s Jordan approaches individual audience members and asks each to attempt to sell him the pen in his hand, the camera moves to the crowd of craning necks and intrigued faces. And at that moment I realized The Wolf of Wall Street gives Jordan Belfort exactly the thing he wants, which is exactly the thing he doesn’t deserve: a captive audience.

Grade: C+

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