The Wolf of Wall Street

OK, I’m not drinking the Kool Aid on this one. It was basically three hours of material that you would put in a trailer and almost no story telling at all. I know that Martin Scorsese is one of our greatest living directors but he needs to be called out the same way that people are willing to call out Spielberg when he plays the same notes over and over again. This is not a movie that has anything to say and it hits no emotional points except tedium and disgust.  I can’t say it is vile because the movie does not really advocate a viewpoint, but it would be easy to see how people watching this would have the same reaction as the stockbrokers who saw the Forbes article that shared the title of this film. Where do I sign up?

The movie “Wall Street” had a clearer condemnation of the excesses of greed and capitalism, this movie is simply an excuse to showcase those excesses. How many times is it necessary to see Leonardo DiCaprio pop a pill, snort cocaine up his nose or end up drooling on the floor? If your answer is less than a half dozen times, be prepared to be bored, because that sequence of events is repeated every twenty minutes in this three hour tour of late eighties/early nineties barbarism. The fact that he is often accompanied by Jonah Hill as a dweebish partner in crime should make it even less necessary to repeat the events over and over. We get it. Ladle on some nudity, including a shot of what I hope was a prosthetic Jonah Hill penis, and you begin to imagine the lengths to which this movie will go to show us the depravity of this wolf-pack. What might have been missing was any sense of the consequences to anyone other that the lead character in the schemes being played out here. I did not care much for “Blue Jasmine” earlier this year but it is an intellectual and moral giant of a film com,pared to this load of thunder signifying nothing.

Jordan Belfort heads a company designed to separate people from their money regardless of whether the investment has any merit. In fact he seems to prefer that the stocks that he peddles are so high risk because that will absolve him of blame for a lack of return by any of his customers. DiCaprio tears into the role with gusto but the part is so under written that he comes across as a stick figure of bellicose ambition. Just as there are too many sequences of debauchery; from dwarf tossing to gang bangs to gleeful fraud on a party line, there are way too many speeches. This my friends comes from a speech teacher. Belfort gets on the microphone in front of his troops almost as often as he snorts cocaine. What should come over as lunatic inspirational messaging for the sales people in the boiler room operation disguised as an investment firm, seems tired and redundant. Emotional high points can’t be high if everything is delivered at the same pitch. The one time it worked in the film was in the moment that Belfort reneges on his S.E.C. agreement. He drops the hyperbole for a few seconds to make a real emotional connection with one of his employees and then dramatically returns to the hyper stylized tone he uses for most of the picture.

There is no character arc in the story. Everyone starts out as a greedy bastard and everyone end up as a greedy bastard. No one is enlightened or changed as a result of the events that take place in the time span of the movie. Some of those events make an interesting anecdote but they do not make a compelling story and when strung together for three hours they make a tedious film. I can understand why there was talk of moving this film to the early part of the next year, it needs some firm pruning and a story editor who can make some sense out of what Scorsese has shot. I think that a decision was made that the salacious nature of the film subject and the name of Martin Scorsese would be satisfactory at  bringing in film fans and there are enough critical apologists that the movie would get some awards consideration. I frankly saw DiCaprio better in a two minute scene in “The Great Gatsby” than in the whole of this film.

The kinetic energy of the filming and editing can’t turn the excesses into anything other than a teaser trailer for a movie that lasts three hours. If you watch the first teaser for the film, you get everything there is in the movie. Add a few more F-bombs and a lot of nudity and drug use and there you have what so many people are claiming is a great film. It takes a lot of talented people to make a movie and the technical aspects of this film are excellent. There are some good short pieces of acting work that are quality based but they are in aid of something meaningless. The vision of the director is ultimately responsible for how the film is supposed to come across to the audience. The director here seems to be blinded by his vision of decadence, much the same way as he was by the style of film in “New York, New York”. A vision can’t just be the images, it needs to be emotions and insight, two things lacking in this film.  Art is subjective, so some will find this artful, I just found it loud, crass and not very entertaining.