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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 WolfGoodfellas 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)

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5 Responses to “The Wolf of Wall Street”

  1. nancy said

    I was far more disappointed than you were. I feel that Scorcese is more and more fond of his own work and lets a scene drag on (trying to get in the car while on those Quaaludes, for example), when it is past interesting and just boring. And the excessive female nudity was offset by virtually no male nudity (maybe a torse?). I’m sick of it. He should let his editor do her job.

    • Thelma Schoonmaker is one of the finest editors, I definitely blame Scorsese and not her for any indulgences. The scene you refer to does indeed go on for a needlessly long time. As for the nudity, it’s troubling. Though there is a lengthy shot of DiCaprio’s derriere and the gay orgy aftermath, the ratio of female nudity to male nudity is way off the charts. I do find Scorsese’s energy somewhat irresistible, though. At the very least, I was compelled to keep watching to the end, which I can’t say for AMERICAN HUSTLE.

      • Nancy said

        His energy. I had not thought about that aspect before, and I do like scorcese’s energy, as well as the performances he gets out of his cast. But that energy does not carry me thru scenes that don’t belong (the entire yacht scene could have gone) or that drag on endlessly. He’s smug at this point, and assumes his vision is supreme. I disagree. If I’m making my grocery list mentally in the theater, he’s lost me.

  2. Alan said

    I watched this last night, and found myself uninvolved. I just couldn’t relate to anyone in the movie, they all seemed so UGLY, not just physically, but as people. Even the women- who I have to say, like Kubrick- Scorcese just appears to have no respect for women in his films, and one therefore assumes in his life. The arguably sympathetic role of the wife seems -for some reason-uninvolving, and yes while there is some male nudity, compared to the women who are displayed frequently and revealingly, the men are protected and this becomes somewhat alienating. I continued to watch it until it ended , just to see how it played out, but I just didn’t care for or about the characters. DiCaprio plays his part well, but I kept thinking of Kevin Spacey.

    • Yes, the lack of humanity on display makes it hard to really care about anything. I don’t think Scorsese is disrespectful to women as much as he is interested in characters who are. There are respectful portraits of women in some of his films, though I admit there are none to be seen here. Thanks for commenting!

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