Sex. Cocaine. Hookers. Profanity. Quaaludes. Destruction. Money. Orgies. More profanity. More sex. More cocaine. More destruction. More money.
Normally these are the kinds of things that liven up a movie, but in Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street,” it’s pretty much all that’s being served. The movie is three hours of high-intensity bacchanalia in the life and work of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort. With a piece being played at such a prolonged forte, it’s quite frankly an exhausting and draining film to watch. While obviously satirical and darkly comedic in tone, the sheer amount of repetition dulls outrageousness into monotony.
“The Wolf of Wall Street” is not without its profound moments of insight, however. Yet I was so exhausted by the relentless onslaught of anarchical madness that I lacked the stamina to really analyze Belfort’s speeches and Scorsese’s curious stylistic choices. Screenwriter Terence Winter and Scorsese present Wall Street as a synecdoche for America, and I’d be curious to re-watch some scenes again and subject them to further criticism.
But that dissection is going to have to be on video or as YouTube clips because I simply don’t think I could sit through “The Wolf of Wall Street” in its entirety again. The film may not condone the behavior it presents on screen, yet it’s so drunk on its own energy it luxuriates in all these obscene shenanigans. It doesn’t really matter if Scorsese communicates disgust for Belfort’s actions; by including such a large volume of his antics, he glorifies Belfort’s narrative over those left ruined in his calamitous wake.
After all, it was Scorsese himself who famously said, “Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out.” Perhaps that’s why I had such trouble enjoying the film – I couldn’t stop thinking about the hard-working people being defrauded by Belfort and his associates at Stratton Oakmont. My mind also wandered to think about all those who still feel the pain from the Great Recession while finance folks laughed all the way to the bank with bigger bonuses than ever. Moreover, I couldn’t help but think about all the future Wall Street traders who will see the movie and experience a wish fulfillment of their wet dreams.
There’s something kind of perverse about a film that allots only 20-30 minutes, roughly, to a criminal’s indictment by the FBI while it finds plenty of time to show two and a half hours of naked marching bands parading around the office, public fornication in a glass elevator, and cocaine being snorted out of a prostitute’s butt. It could be Winter and Scorsese’s way of reminding us of the virtual impunity of Wall Street as evinced by the 2008 financial crisis. Yet it could also send the message that the only problem in Belfort’s narrative was that he got caught.
DiCaprio is undeniably charismatic as the film’s titular madcap prophet of capitalism. It’s a performance that showcases the extreme ranges of his acting, but all the screaming and flailing could have been rained in some for a more controlled, effective characterization. Still, all the histrionics endow him with a sense of magnetism and allure that could trump Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko.
Douglas has said that people still come up to him and say that Gekko inspired them to enter the field of finance, and I suspect in the future, DiCaprio may have a few budding Belforts come up to him and thank him for how “The Wolf of Wall Street” changed their life. I do hope the viewing audience has become more intelligent at perceiving the true message of a film. But as the old adage goes, history repeats itself because no one listened the first time. B /