The Wolf of Wall Street
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort
Jonah Hill as Donnie Azoff
Margot Robbie as Naomi
Kyle Chandler as FBI Agent Denham
OK, there’s this full-on obsessive charismatic guy, totally surrounded by hordes of minions employed to do his bidding. He’s spending millions … tens, hundreds of millions … on employing that many people. The project in hand is amoral, and designed to make loads of money in spite of its scenes of unremittingly sordid excess. Fine, that’s enough about Martin Scorsese. Let’s talk about the film.
I’ve held this one for a long time. I didn’t like the film initially, and it was getting enough reviews, so I decided not to bother back in January. The DVD has been sitting by the TV for months waiting to be rewatched. This is the first “post-DVD” review here.
It has the longest cast list and technical crew list I’ve seen in years. It scrolls on and on and on. It’s based on Jordan Belfort’s autobiographical book. Reviews when it came out in the UK suggested it was 33% too long at three hours. That’s wrong. It’s at least 40 – 50% too long. 100 minutes max. Once you’ve seen DiCaprio rant and rave persuasively ten times, you’ve got the picture. The other thirty aren’t necessary. Once you’ve seen cocaine blown through a straw up a hooker’s rear end, you’ve seen it. Repetition does not add to the interest. I was pleased that it got nominations for awards, then even more pleased that in a year of vastly superior films it didn’t get them, and only picked up a Golden Globe for Best Actor; and an AFI Award, but the important ones are Oscars, Golden Globes and BAFTAs. It didn’t deserve more than it got. Actually, I wouldn’t have given it for best actor in the face of the opposition this year. I might have given an award for best “curated soundtrack” though. The most similar mainstream Hollywood movie this year was American Hustle. That also had a brilliant “found” soundtrack. And I thought in every department, it was a superior film to The Wolf of Wall Street, but even so, I didn’t think it worthy of any awards this year.
At the core of the film, we see that these drug-addled, testosterone fuelled, thieving swine are part of the road to the eventual banking crisis that swallowed up so much of the world’s economy. Ask all those kids who are unemployed in Spain or Greece or doing MacJobs in the UK or USA. These Wall Street bastards screwed their lives. They needed a St. Petersburg 1917 ending with stockbrokers like these strung up from the lampposts. That would be justice. But does the film investigate that? Actually it seems to set them up as someone to side with, we’d all do it given the chance. Right at the end, Jordan turns out to have generously given $25,000 to the new employee who asked for a $5000 advance. Ah, Bless!
The quaalude overdose scenes are convincing, and very funny. I guess the depiction of drugs there is off-putting enough. By then we are starting to get internal monologues from Jordan … that’s all the way through, but then other characters start internal monologues too. This orgy of many orgies is often supposed to be funny, too.
It’s screamingly obvious, far too obvious, but I felt the need as Jordan is carted off on the bus to prison, for a couple of little dialogues. I’m sure Scorsese felt we can draw the conclusions for ourselves, but this IS mass market Hollywood movie-making. You can’t be too obvious. So as Jordan starts out on his 36 month sentence for defrauding millions from the little people, I wanted two more cons on the bus. They could have asked him his crime and sentence. Then the first con could reveal that as a three-time loser, he’s going down for life for stealing $100, and the other could reveal that he’s got twenty years for possessing a reasonably large quantity of cocaine. Not as much as we saw Jordan with several times of course. Merely 20 years worth.
In the bad old days of Hollywood they had the Hays Office Code, ridiculous as it was. You couldn’t mention travelling salesmen and farmers’ daughters in the same speech, for instance. We used to sneer at their provision that you should not show that crime pays or that crime has no consequences for the victims. So what does Scorsese show of the little people defrauded of their life savings? Nada.
In the film, Jordan sneers at the FBI agent, on $50,000 a year, having to travel home in a sweaty suit on the grubby subway. So the agent wins. Jordan gets his derisory paltry jail sentence. And at the end, we see Agent Denham stuck on the grubby, sweaty subway, while ex-con Jordan is giving inspirational speeches in New Zealand. See, crime does pay. We knew that was true, but how about an ending where the FBI agent walks to his normal suburban home to be greeted by two happy kids?
In the end the film is amoral, and deeply sexist. It’s as degrading to women as any film I’ve ever seen. The makers will excuse it by saying it portrays real misogyny, and the real excess of these people … it starts with throwing dwarves at a target … and when I first saw it, that got laughs. Not even embarrassed laughs. Again, the claim is that it’s an indictment of capitalism. But no victims were shown at any point. “Victimless crime” is the impression. But that’s so not true. The film sits on a big lie. There’s been so much discussion. If you don’t like it you are seen as a tight-arsed prude with no sense of humour. I couldn’t care less about the effing and blinding count. That sounded authentic. But it’s not a great movie.
Less of this needed …
It’s well-acted (Jonah Hill was deserving of a best supporting actor nomination, though not the award), directed with competence and lavishly staged, but a dull repetitious story and far too long. Once Jordan’s been arrested, the film has nothing left to say. But it continues and continues.
What WAS brilliant is the soundtrack of around sixty “found” songs. As usual the executive producer was Robbie Robertson, and when the most prominent tune is one of my desert island ten, Cannonball Adderley’s Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, it was off to a great start. I looked up the OST album and found it disappointing. The sixteen tracks out of a potential sixty sit on those great and easily-licensed Chess classics … Smokestack Lightning, Pretty Thing, Road Runner, plus Dust My Broom. Who hasn’t already got those? It misses Spoonful … so appropriate in such a coke laden film and Mona. I was interested in Mrs Robinson by The Lemonheads, which is on there, but can’t believe they skipped Ça Plane Pour Moi by Plastic Bertrand (the arrest scene) or the wildly different Sloop John B by Me First and The Gimmee Gimmees. See HERE (http://blogs.indiewire.com/theplaylist/all-the-songs-in-the-wolf-of-wall-street-including-devo-cypress-hill-foo-fighters-more-20131227) for the complete list of nearly sixty.