Wolf a glossy debacle
Scorsese lets grotesque monster loose with Wolf of Wall Street
Saturday, Jan 11, 2014 06:00 am
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Terence Winter
Rated: 18A for sexual content and substance abuse.
Runtime: 180 minutes
Now playing at Cineplex Odeon North Edmonton and Scotiabank Theatre
As a director, Martin Scorsese is pretty familiar with the seedy and sordid side of life, and all the players involved. He has offered up psychological crime dramas all up and down the map, mostly dealing with gangsters. I have yet to see a movie of his deal with white-collar criminals … until now. I gotta tell ya that I still prefer the gangsters.
Jordan Belfort (portrayed with much relish by Leonardo DiCaprio) is a guy who just never shoots straight: not with his enemies and certainly not with his friends or his wives.
The Wolf of Wall Street is the based-on-a-true-story story of a guy who wanted to be the best stock trader around. As it turned out, being the best meant mastering the confidence game. This is a game in which the truth can be played fast and loose.
OK, I’ll level with you, Belfort got rich quick … by lying. He sold penny stocks by convincing people that they would soon be worth much more even though they wouldn’t be. And then he trained some people how to convince others too. And then some more. The simple ruse became an empire of lies.
Like any empire, there is a meteoric rise and then a catastrophic fall. The director himself said this film is analogous to the tragedy of Caligula, the Roman emperor who was insatiable in his desires. Belfort too has a carnal appetite for the pleasures of life, like sex and drugs. In fact, this movie is filled with debauchery unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a Scorsese movie.
And yes, just like the story of Caligula, the meteoric rise to power, complete with all of those excesses and extravagances, ultimately leads to a catastrophic downfall. Belfort is no hero. He gets caught by the FBI for securities fraud and corruption.
But that’s just the backstory. This movie is still an engrossing tale of greed and temptation with no redemption. DiCaprio, eager as he may be, is not really that much of an actor. He’s got good looks and charm so he can really just surf on those attributes through his work. Here, he just chews his way through his scenes like a great white shark at a vast smorgasbord. We never forget even for one second that he’s Leonardo and he’s acting.
Most of the cast does this too. I’m sure that it made sense though, considering the source material. Matthew McConaughey plays Mark Hanna, Belfort’s mentor. It’s probably the one character that I wish there was more of. He’s only in the movie for about six minutes but he steals the movie away from DiCaprio. Jonah Hill is Donnie Azoff, the guy who helps Belfort open up a new firm. Hill is actually pretty good too, despite his pedigree in dumb comedies. Together, those two make the rest of the actors tolerable.
That’s not to say that Wolf is all bad. The soundtrack (supervised by Robbie Robertson) is fantastic. The movie has its moments of hilarity, mostly at the expense of Belfort under the influence of heavy drugs. The story starts off thrilling and we are swept up with its tidal wave of indulgences.
But there are numerous sex scenes, far more than necessary. There are beautiful people and the nudity is gratuitous. I’ll just come right out and say that this is soft-core porn. There are the spoils of stock trading: expensive cars, yachts and mansions. There are drugs everywhere. It’s like having a front row seat to the life of someone with far too much money and far too few scruples.
At just about the halfway point of this three-hour monster, things go south and then we all get dragged through the mud along with our anti-hero. It’s a complete 180-degree turn from the first part. This makes a great companion piece to American Hustle, as they both show two distinct acts of criminal egomania from recent history.
It would be far too easy to compare Wolf to Scorsese’s Goodfellas as the two have much in common: voiceover narration, breaking the fourth wall, and pretty much the whole plot. But Wolf pales in the comparison to that magnum opus. Even The Departed, another of the director’s recent forays into the criminal underworld and police corruption, displayed the modern master’s touches of poetic brilliance.
This movie, sadly, is a tragedy not only in its morality but also in Scorsese’s lack of restraint. I know that The Wolf of Wall Street is about lavishness and lust, the exaggerated free-for-all that ensues from unlimited wealth. But we the audience didn’t need to see every second of it.
Scorsese, with all his talent, could easily have sliced off the better part of an hour or even more from this bloated, grotesque banquet.