Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Wolf of Wall Street

Yesterday I saw The Wolf of Wall Street, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill.

Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) wasn't born rich, but he was obsessed with becoming rich. He used his smarts to get an entry level position on Wall Street and a few years later started his own brokerage firm, where he sold penny stocks and performed countless acts of fraud against his investors.

In this lively retelling of his life (so far), Martin Scorsese returns to his Goodfellas pacing and explodes the story across the screen. For three hours. No joke.

It's alternately exhilarating and nauseating, and the DiCaprio really couldn't be better, but I wonder: does it glamorize the excess too much?

Belfort was (maybe is?) not a nice guy. He swindled money out of people who were of the same class or lower than the honest parents who raised him in the Bronx. The only "victim" of his nonsense we see in the film is his first wife, who catches him cheating. But we do believe he loved his mistress (he did marry her, after all) so even that doesn't sting as much as it should.

The drug scenes happen almost constantly (as does the sex) and I can't help but think if I was young and impressionable, some of this stuff would be undeniably enticing.

Donnie Azoff a.k.a. the real Daniel Porush (Hill) was Belfort's right hand man, and committed as many sins as his boss. His character is hilarious and there are moments where Hill clearly steals the show. Also fantastic are cameos by Matthew McConaughey and Jon Favreau.

I can't imagine what Thelma "cut" to get this from an NC-17 to an R; it's plenty filthy, but oddly not gratuitous because it's necessary to convey how insanely out of control Belfort's world became.

There isn't anything wrong with this film, save for the common consequence of Scorsese's hallmark: he makes people who commit reprehensible acts appear invincible and heroic.

If only he also gave us a glimpse of those on the other side of the fence.


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