Review: 'The Wolf of Wall Street'
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criticism hurled at Martin Scorsese's latest romp, The Wolf of Wall Street, is centered around his supposed glorification of the film's protagonist, Jordan Belfort. Played with unbridled glee by Leonardo DiCaprio, Belfort is a stockbroker who defrauds thousands of people in his quest to conquer Wall Street from the outside. As these things go, his schemes are often accompanied by naked women, mountains of cocaine and lavish expenditures. And, for the most part, it's played as a comedy. Cue the outraged masses. To many, the act of bringing this story to the big screen -- the tale of a man who ruined countless lives without batting an eye -- is a slap in the face to anyone who's suffered at the hands of a Wall Street bullshitter. Even more problematic, they'd argue, is allowing the audience to laugh along with a drug addict womanizer as he commits his many, many moral and legal crimes. What these filmgoers seem to be missing, however, is that Scorsese does not condone the actions of his protagonist. As FILM CRIT HULK pointed out recently, the film refuses to dole out the usual brand of cinematic punishment. There's no big moment where the good guys triumph and the bad guy is locked up forever; there's no moral message propped up in neon lights. We aren't allowed to wipe our hands of the story and feel that justice has been served. What Wolf of Wall Street does is force the audience to sit with what these people have done. To accept the reality of the situation. Jordan Belfort went to jail and lost his fortune; he also served only 22 months and fell into a lucrative career as a motivational speaker. In the film's final scene, Belfort faces an audience of captivated
wannabes doing their best to impress him with sales pitches. Despite his scandalous dealings and subsequent disgrace, there are still plenty of people looking for get-rich-quick tips from a former millionaire. For everyone who actively condemns greed and misuse of power, there are ten more who would go to horrid lengths in order to get ahead. Scorsese understands this, and hangs his entire movie on it. We laugh because it's so absurd; we laugh because we can't imagine ourselves involved in the same atrocities. But most of us haven't had to deal with such temptations; I suspect many would end up just like Jonah Hill's Donnie Azoff, completely and utterly corrupted. Speaking of Hill, it's delightful to watch the gang that makes up Belfort's inner circle (also including Ethan Suplee, Kenneth Choi and P.J. Byrne) plan midget-throwing parties and discuss future drug-fueled escapades. They cackle like madmen whenever someone makes an ass of themselves or pulls their dick out at a party; it looks like fun, until you envision relying on them in real life. But everyone appears to be having a blast inhabiting this outrageous world of overindulgence. Especially DiCaprio, who is a lock for his third Best Actor nomination. This looks like the most fun he's ever had making a movie; his lengthy yacht-based scene with Kyle Chandler, the FBI agent tasked with taking down Belfort, contains some of the finest work both men have ever done. It's equal parts tense and disarming. The Wolf of Wall Street isn't perfect; the final half-hour drags a bit (at 180 minutes, it's Scorsese's longest movie), a subplot involving Belfort's wife's British aunt is necessary to the story (I suppose) but ultimately goes nowhere, and some of the excesses are, well, excessive. By the time the third hour rolls around, the point is well-made: these guys are out of their fucking minds. But in all likelihood, that's what Marty was going for. They literally cannot stop; they need more money, more drugs, more sex. There's a hole in some people that can never be filled, no matter how hard they try. It's a depravity we can only laugh at; that's what he's captured here.