Movie Review: The Wolf of Wall Street
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
Martin Scorsese teams for the fifth time with his 21st-century De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio, in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” a bloated, exhausting, three-hour shotgun blast of drugs, sex, dancing stock brokers, cocaine, unrepentant capitalism-as-long-con, ‘ludes, little-person-tossing, nice cars, literal chest-beating, crass behavior of every possible stripe and a very large boat.
By default, attention must be paid.
While this pairing has yielded smart, well-crafted entertainments such as “The Aviator” and “The Departed,” it has also resulted in the unfortunate “Shutter Island” and “Gangs of New York,” in which moments of gorgeous violence and interesting history are cut with inadvertent comedy.
“The Wolf of Wall Street” is some of both. No, it is all of both. It sometimes feels like a collection of every tic Scorsese has ever futzed with, from fourth-wall-smashing voice-overs, long tracking shots and smart chatter at restaurants.
It is based on the memoir of the same name by Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio), a working-class New Yorker who dreams of Wall Street. He makes it, even having time for a power lunch with a law-of-the-jungle broker (Matthew McConaughey, banging his chest) before getting laid off after the crash of 1987.
Belfort then joins a Long Island-based penny stock boiler room (nice cameo, Spike Jonze), promptly shows them how to turn a little money into a whole lot of money by lying to the same working-class folks he came from about the potential for riches. Boom: Soon he is running the place, surrounding himself with ambitious mooks with no ethics and rebranding it as a high-end brokerage, Stratton Oakmont.
Belfort is an ice-to-Eskimos salesman, the sort of guy who can persuade a stranger (a terrific Jonah Hill) to join his firm just by showing the fellow a pay stub for $75,000.
And as the firm grows, so does the mania of Belfort’s red-meat sales meetings — DiCaprio is clearly having the time of his life screaming at his staff — and the debauchery. Belfort ditches his wife for a younger, hotter model, oversees an office that sometimes resembles a well-tailored Roman orgy and ingests a whole lot of cocaine and downers.
Say what you will about Scorsese’s judgment (or lack thereof) regarding the financial shenanigans; he makes taking loads of drugs look like an absolute blast, even during an extended (read: entirely too long) sequence when a completely wrecked Belfort has to drag himself on the floor, inch by inch, to his Ferrari.
The debauchery, which almost netted the movie an NC-17, is not all that different from, say, “Game of Thrones.” But man alive, is there a lot of it, scene after scene. We get it: These guys were terrible (or awesome?) human beings who robbed suckers blind, lived high on the hog at a time when the economy was really great so it was a little less noticeable, violated a mess of commandments over and over and eventually got pinched.
There are grace notes here and there. Kyle Chandler plays Patrick Denham, the FBI agent who patiently put together the case against Belfort; a smart scene contrasting Denham and Belfort’s lifestyles haunts and lingers. And Hill pops as Donnie Azoff, the disciple who loved Belfort-the-money-messiah best.
The soundtrack is its own puzzle. Here, the one-time master of period-perfect songs layers on old electric blues, jazz and soul such as Bo Diddley, Elmore James and the Jimmy Castor Bunch, emphasis on old. The most period appropriate moment comes when Belfort, knowing he is toast, leads his employees in a rousing dance to Naughty By Nature’s “Hip-Hop Hooray.”
There is just so much of this movie, with almost no tonal variation, and it is a little unclear why. “Goodfellas,” the movie that defined later Scorsese, holds up in part because it spans decades and does it in under two and a half hours. It feels epic without actually being epic. “The Wolf of Wall Street” covers, more or less, 1987 to about 1998 and packs it all into three numbing hours.
Is numbness the point? Is it Scorsese’s ultimate riff on Bob Dylan’s line “Money doesn’t talk, it swears”? Or is it that screenwriter Terrence Winter, who made his bones on “The Sopranos” and currently show-runs “Boardwalk Empire,” is more used to telling his tales over 13 hours rather than three. One is loathe to embrace “TV are the new movies” meme, but it has become the long-form and movies the short-form for certain types of stories. The crime saga is a prime example.
Probably because of the sheer amount of sex and money, “Leo’s” star power, a few excellent performances and a desire to keep seeing our filmmaking heroes as old masters, “The Wolf of Wall Street” will be touted (and probably be received) as greater rather than lesser Scorsese.
But as Johnny Rotten famously asked, ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?