If there is a director capable of sitting me down for three solid hours to watch a film, that does not feel long, boring, or physically painful to my knees, it definitely is Martin Scorsese. Interestingly, his newest creation, “The Wolf of Wall Street” was originally intended to sport a whopping 240 minute long running time, but the studio stepped in and forced Scorsese to trim it down to under three hours…. Which he did – 179 minutes fits the bill perfectly, doesn’t it? It makes me wonder, what it would be like in its most pristine form, but as the saying goes: his theatrical cuts are always director’s cuts, so there is no reason whatsoever to doubt his judgment.
There has to be some sort of artistic magnetism that draws Scorsese to tell these epic, complex, and long stories, like “Goodfellas”, or “Casino”. He never fails in delivering a gripping and compelling visual feast and fills it with unforgettable performances. I have yet to see a movie of his that I would dislike, and “The Wolf of Wall Street” is most certainly not going to be an exception in this regard. In fact, I believe nobody else (alive or dead) could bring a story like that to the screen in a way that is visually interesting, unrestrained, gripping, and – most of all – relevant.
Based on an autobiography, “The Wolf of Wall Street” portrays the rise and fall of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), a young stockbroker who became a millionaire in the early 90’s, swindled and bamboozled his way to the very top of the world, all to the accompaniment of hard drugs, sexual excesses and many other despicable activities only to see his kingdom crumble upon itself eventually. It’s an epic take on a larger-than-life character of Belfort, who together with his best friend Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), jumpstarted his American Dream by transforming a freakishly small trading business into a monstrous endeavour with little to no respect towards legal regulations, or human dignity. In the end, taking into account how the events unfold, “The Wolf of Wall Street” is very much a cautionary tale and not at all a biopic.
It is almost impossible to avoid drawing a direct parallel to other Scorsese’s saga-esque arcs, like the aforementioned “Goodfellas”, “The Aviator”, and to a lesser extent “Casino”, where – much like a house of cards – the narrative would build up to a climactic crescendo with the entire world collapsing around the main character in the most spectacular fashion. While in his other films the viewer has a relatively easy job in identifying right from wrong, “The Wolf of Wall Street” puts a twist on the entire arc that requires additional effort on behalf of the audience to get the message. And that’s what I think is responsible for this entire ridiculous debate that ensued following this film’s theatrical release.
Scorsese doesn’t really hold back on the visuals in “The Wolf of Wall Street” and I think it’s perfectly valid (if not mandatory) to show the guy’s life for what it really was with excruciating attention to detail. Much like in the case of “12 Years a Slave”, the power of “The Wolf of Wall Street” lies within the imagery, but the message requires an extra step to be taken, as it is not laid out in the open, hidden beneath the biopic-esque story arc, mesmerizing over-the-top acting performances, and a comedic slant. I understand it is quite difficult to despise Jordan Belfort’s actions, because he’s just so likeable, but I would dare assume it was the entire point of the film. Don’t let the comedy fool you, though – it is there for a reason.
I think it needs to be said out loud that none of the outrageously graphic scenes of sex, drug abuse, belittlement of people in the workplace, or any combination of the three are there to glorify Jordan Belfort’s life. And while “The Wolf of Wall Street” doesn’t have a definitive moral overtone to it, it can surely be seen as a reflection on the rotten nature of the world. Sure, I wouldn’t show this film to underage kids, because they might not be educated or sensitive enough (forget the hookers, public masturbation, and cocaine) to see through the imagery and think how twisted Jordan Belfort’s mind really is, and how unfair life really is. Thinking about “The Wolf of Wall Street” in those terms adds even more power to Leonardo DiCaprio’s powerhouse performance as Jordan Belfort, where he balanced perfectly the self-indulgence, the extrovert love of affirmation, the diabolical scheming undertone, and the ultimately lovable exterior of Jordan Belfort’s character. Now, that’s no small feat to achieve, but directed by a high-calibre persona of Martin Scorsese, DiCaprio definitely succeeded in the realistic portrayal of this undoubtedly somewhat cartoonish character.
There’s no dancing around it: “The Wolf of Wall Street” isn’t a film for everybody, and it’s not because of the (very) offensive imagery, foul language and the like. While I cannot really comment on how truthful the film is in portraying Belfort’s degenerate lifestyle (plus, who knows what really happened, since the source material was written by the man in question himself), it definitely is somehow rooted in reality. Some people might not like that idea, but guys like Belfort are real and while only a fraction of them actually gets the chance to become rich and powerful, I can assure you, you’d find these types in your direct vicinity. Nowadays, we are being raised with the idea pummelled into our brains that it should be our goal to get rich and successful, or die trying; the Belfort-like characters simply are products of our society.
Interestingly, maybe the reason “The Wolf of Wall Street” has garnered such a bad reputation has to do with the idea that some viewers would see this film as inspirational in some manner. Sure, I can see that, but at the same time, anybody who left the screening pumped about the notion of life of bullshit, crime and debauchery, would have done it anyway. Seriously, if a pat on the back is all you need to become a criminal, I’d say you are perfectly predisposed to become one regardless. I am of the opinion that we don’t need to turn everything into an afterschool special, so the lack of the moral at the end of the story doesn’t really bug me at all. I don’t need to be told what to think and I was perfectly satisfied with the way things wrapped up at the end. Well, maybe not entirely, because it really pisses me off that degenerates like that never learn and can weasel their way out of everything (it’s not a spoiler – it’s real life), but that’s just life. However, in terms of the commentary on society in general, “The Wolf of Wall Street” does the job perfectly. You just need to be willing to look past the tits and booze.