On Christmas, I went to see The Wolf of Wall Street with my mom and younger brother. In a strange way, it was an incredibly appropriate choice for a Christmas movie. Christmas in America is nothing more than a celebration of capitalist driven greed (one that is quickly swallowing up Thanksgiving and Halloween as well), and that greed was displayed in all its glory in this film.
For me, the film was Wall Street meets Goodfellas. From the very beginning, Scorsese really wants the audience to be reminded of one of his greatest films. Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays main character Jordan Belfort, gives voiceover narration (and at times, even breaks the fourth wall), similar to the main character in Goodfellas. This is an intriguing conjunction, because Goodfellas both romanticizes and exposes the violence of the world of organized crime. It exposes it in the sense that the violence is portrayed in a stark, realistic style, and yet the character waxes poetic about the life that he lived as a gangster.
In The Wolf of Wall Street, the movie clearly portrays the life of the Wall Street mogul in much the same way. Leonardo DiCaprio’s lifestyle is bacchanalian. That doesn’t go far enough. Ok, how about this. If I went back in time, kidnapped the Emperor Caligula, brought him back into the present and showed him this movie, he would say, “Wow, that’s fucked up. I wouldn’t do that shit.” It really is that bad. I’ll be honest, after a while it got boring. I agreed with the two random guys behind me who, after the movie, said, “There was a point when I thought, ‘Ok, we get it! Hookers.'” And drugs. It lost the initial punch, and then it just took up time in the movie.
My brother had a really great point about the focus on the drugs and sex. The movie does not even try to explain the exact nature of the financial crimes. There are moments when Jordan Belfort starts to explain the nature of his crimes, and then says, “You know, I’m not going to bother.” Then he goes back to the wild parties. After a while, the movie starts to give the impression that Jordan’s crimes were essentially vice crimes, drugs and hookers. This is not true at all. He was not arrested for drugs and hookers, that was chunk change as far as the FBI was concerned. He was arrested for taking millions of dollars from others. Many people have criticized the film for not showing the victims. I sympathize with this complaint for a specific reason. I have noticed that conservatives are scandalized by sex, and that liberals are scandalized by greed. I do think it is possible to walk away thinking that Jordan’s sins were sins of chastity and gluttony, rather than avarice. (The film hints that these sins are connected.) In other words, if he had been faithful to his wife, and not done drugs, it still would have been wrong to commit financial crimes. More than anything, I wanted the film to try to explain his financial crimes to me.
This is, by far, the most controversial point of the movie. Many people feel that this movie glorifies the drugs, sex, and naked opulence portrayed in the movie. My brother feels that way to a point. He feels that the movie is ultimately shallow and vapid. I disagree. I think that the film is so over the top that Martin Scorsese was certainly trying to satirize the lifestyle. It is grotesque in the true definition of the word “comically or repulsively ugly or distorted.” It is distorted by its size and scale. Does it work? I say kind of. It is harder to make sex and drugs distasteful than violence (as in Goodfellas.), but at times, Scorsese succeeds.
Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, and all the others are very wonderful in this film, and there is a scene where Leonardo DiCaprio demonstrates that he is a wonderful physical comedian. I laughed so hard in that scene that it was practically worth the price of admission in itself. Basically, the entire cast is wonderful.
However, my mother became enraged at the end of the film. She did not realize that it was based on the book written by Jordan Belfort. She was livid with good reason. Jordan Belfort will likely get royalties from this film. (I wonder how he will spend the money. Oh wait.) I’m tempted to tell people to wait until they can rent the film from the library, so that they can see the film without paying any money to Jordan Belfort.
If it seems as though I’m going back and forth in this review, it’s because I am. I cannot quite pin down how I feel about this film. It varies. At times, I think it’s a great film, a great commentary about greed and capitalism in America. At other times, I agree with my brother that the film is immature and vapid, basically Scorsese’s personal porn film. At other times, I think that the film does have a point and tries to ram that point down the throat of the audience! I can’t decide.
But I want to end the review with ancient Rome again. I unfavorably compared Jordan Belfort to Emperor Caligula. But I think I can also compare him to Emperor Nero. The Wall Street bankers are blowing cocaine into the asses of hookers while the American middle class disappears. Nero at least fiddled.
But before Rome burns to the ground, I plan on seeing Goodfellas.
I do not own the pictures. They are stills of the film The Wolf of Wall Street, which I also do not own. Paramount owns the film.