The Wolf of Wall Street
Posted by martinteller on June 15, 2014
I love my life. I really, really do. The other day I got engaged to the most wonderful person I’ve ever met, a woman whose companionship is a source of constant joy and comfort. I have pets that I love dearly. I have a house that suits all my needs. Granted, I bought it at the worst possible time and the mortgage is underwater. But despite this (among other debts), I manage to keep my head above water financially. I’m not wanting for anything. The pleasures I take in life are all simple and attainable: good food, getting lost in a movie or a book, working through a crossword, some conversation and some laughs, a game either by myself or with family and friends. My job allows me to work from home, it pays well and is pretty stress-free. My life is grand, and really the only thing that keeps me from perfect happiness is my own set of intrusive anxieties.
Accusations that The Wolf of Wall Street glamorizes Jordan Belfour’s debauched lifestyle are puzzling to me. For all his indulgences — the sex, the drugs, the parties, the heaps of money and luxuries — it looks like a miserable way to live. Maybe I’m just an old fuddy-duddy who doesn’t know how to have fun (seriously, maybe I am), but not for a moment did I think, “Wow, I wish I had all that.” It looks so empty and unfulfilling. The film may put on display people who are exploitative, shallow and immoral, but I don’t think it celebrates those qualities at all.
Scorsese has done a number of movies in this mold, charting the rise and fall of men who have humble beginnings, achieve massive success and power, and come crashing down. The Aviator, Raging Bull and New York New York come to mind. Three seem to follow a very specific template: Goodfellas, Casino and now Wolf. Goodfellas is easily the masterpiece of this bunch, and there have been diminishing returns on the formula since. What I find most frustrating about this picture is that Scorsese assumes the viewer doesn’t care about the mechanics behind Belfour’s ill-gotten rise to power. DiCaprio even addresses the camera — twice — to say so. He couldn’t be more wrong. A big part of what makes Goodfellas so fascinating is seeing the ins and outs of the mob’s schemes, how their organization functioned, how they cheated the system. You strip that away and all that’s left is the debauchery.
To be sure, it is often very entertaining debauchery. The dialogue cracks like a whip, performances by DiCaprio and Hill and McConaughey are electric, and the mischief they get into is wildly over-the-top. The episode involving the “Lemmon” Quaaludes is one of the most intense and grimly compelling things Scorsese has ever put on the screen. But to tell me I don’t need to know the complex stock manipulations that helped Belfour amass his fortune makes me feel condescended to. Parades of naked women and coke-fueled adventures only go so far. As polished and, yes, enjoyable as all this mania can be, I was left wanting a little more substance. Rating: Good (73)