Wednesday, January 15, 2014

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET


THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is crazy gonzo fun for about an hour.  And then it's still sporadically funny but the complete lack of character or indeed plot development starts to nag at you.  And while it's nagging you think, haven't I seen all this before, thematically at least, in GOODFELLAS and CASINO?  And then, in the final half hour of this over-long three hour film, you get the first indication of the dark side of the excesses of greed and addiction - the first actually profound exploration.  And it's just too late.

Which is not to say that Martin Scorsese hasn't achieved a great deal with this film. No-one depicts hedonism with his sense of energy, flair and superb synchronisation of music cues. And my god, Leonardo diCaprio and Seth Rogen really commit to their performances.  To see the two rookie stockbrokers sneak out the back of a restaurant, smoke crack and then go skipping and jumping through the car-lot like naughty children is a joy.  To see them, now super successful, crippled by quaaludes, bodies spasoming, fighting over a kitchen counter is physical comedy of the highest form.   To be sure the intervening two hours contain many a funny scene.  The serious discussion about dwarf tossing, referring always to the dwarf as 'it' is funny as hell.   But there's an uneasiness in the gonzo nature of this film, and Scorsese's resistance to any dark backing.  Surely it must be possible to make a movie about superficial greedy people that is not itself superficial and egregious?

Because, make no mistake, the tone of this film for the majority of the run-time is one of admiration for these charming gonzo folk.  It's swallowed the hype for the most part.  It makes zero attempt to show the impact of these swindlers on the ordinary folk whose money they have invested in worthless stock, while taking massive commission. The 'hero' has an earnest first wife who is dispatched in a divorce quickly and is never seen again.  What's even worse is that Scorsese clearly isn't actually interested in the con.

Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) was a real life broker who operated a 'boiler plate' scheme - that means you set up a call centre and randomly cold call dumb schmucks and get them to invest their money with you. It works because they are ignorant and greedy. The so-called investments are actually in worthless 'penny stocks' - companies so small that they aren't on the main stock market and so fly under the radar of the big investment banks.  And the real con, is that the brokers take 50% commission. So they take your $10,000, invest $5,000 in stuff  that's worthless, and keep the other $5,000.  In addition to this con, Jordan also ran two other cons. First, he would bring a new company to the stock market, but instead of selling the new shares in the market, he would pocket them himself, in secret, drive up the price and then sell.  Second, he was wholesale exporting cold hard cash to a secret bank account in Switzerland.

Scorsese barely tells you any of this. In fact, time and again in Jordan's speeches to the audience he says something like 'You don't understand what I'm saying, or care, so let's just flick to another picture of me snorting coke from a hooker's arse.'  I find this just as patronising as the original boiler plate scam - assuming the audience is as gullible and greedy for excess and dumb as the scammed investors.  Scorsese is truly giving a massive Fuck You to all of us.  Compare the approach taken here to J.C.Chandor's marvellous MARGIN CALL - the only movie to really GET Wall Street.  The tragedy here is not that Scorsese fails, as Oliver Stone did with WALL STREET 2 - the tragedy is that Scorsese doesn't even try.

So when you strip out any interest in Wall Street, and any interest in what's really behind all this excess psychologically, what you basically get is a gag-reel full of drug-fuelled pratfalls and brilliantly kitschy 1980s clothes.  It's funny but it's empty and too long given the paucity of its ambition.

But is it worth seeing anyway? Here I'd have to say 'yes'.  The Matthew McConaughey cameo is genius - as if anyone isn't already convinced that this is truly HIS time in the sun.  The physical comedy is fantastic.  DiCaprio's quaaluded-up attempt to get to his car is worth awards glory on its own.  But be prepared, amid these wonderful set-pieces, for boredom. And don't expect Scorsese to move beyond the thematic work that has, by now, become clich√© - sudden wealth, hot wife, doofus sidekick, hubris, nemesis.  Where's the personal growth? Both on the part of Jordan Belfort AND on the part of Scorsese?

P.S. If in your publicity material you're making great claims for screenwriter Terence Winter's background in investment banking, don't show the tickers for Black Monday as GREEN when the RED was dripping on the walls, dumbass.


THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is rated R in the USA and 18 in the UK for very strong language, strong sex and drug use. The movie has a running time of 180 minutes.

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET was released last year in the USA, Canada, France, Albania, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Lebanon, New Zealand, Macedonia, Serbia and Slovenia. It was released earlier this month in Egypt, Argentina, Chile, Israel, Uruguay, Finland, India, Poland, Belgium, Denmark, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Portugal, Singapore, South Korea, Mexico, Romania, Sweden and Vietnam. It will be released on January 17th in the UK, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Pakistan and Spain.  It will be released on January 23rd in Australia, Italy and Brazil; and on January 24th in Japan; on January 31st in Norway and Russia; on February 7th in Russia, Estonia and Latvia; on February 13th in Hong Kong; on February 21st in Lithuania; and on February 28th in Turkey.

This review is available as a podcast. You can listen directly below or subscribe to Bina007 Movie Reviews in iTunes.



6 comments:

  1. Great review Bina! It's hard to argue with your critique of the movie. However, I do think the attempts to glamorize Wolfie's lifestyle are deliberate on Scorsese's part, specifically so that he can pull back the glossy veneer at various points, and show us the pit of worms festering beneath.

    The quaalude scene is a great example of that, because while it starts off as slapsticky and fun, it gradually clicks into something really sad and desperate when we see Wolfie's frightened daughter. And the shot of the smashed up car, the morning after, seems to imply everything we see through Wolfie's eyes is pure fantasy. What's really going on is much darker. Early in the film, there's also a shot of a secretary feeling her shaved head for the first time, and looking at a wad of bills, which I think levels a subtle condemnation amidst the far more boisterous revelry.

    My major criticism is that we're never able to connect with Wolfie as a human being. Sure he's charismatic, but even from his earliest scenes he just comes off as a slimy Wall Street psychopath. Maybe a more gradual corruption would have worked better. I do like the idea of this being the spiritual sequel to Goodfellas, which together examine the two great crime dynasties of America. However, as I mentioned on Twitter, I found myself more repulsed by Wolfie than the wiseguys (who actually murder people for a living). Maybe because they had some glint of humanity.

    Anyway, I didn't mean to write so much. Keep up the great work. I look forward to reading more reviews :)

    P.S. Sorry, ignore the previous comment. I hit "preview" by mistake. #EpicFail

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  2. Great comments, Valkryist - but judging by the general hype and audience reaction I think people are seeing the fun and not the darkness. It's a bit analogous to the idiots who apply for jobs with Jordan right after the hatchet job article in Forbes!

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  3. Well, that's more their fault, than the movie's. I love that parallel though.

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  4. "And then, in the final half hour of this over-long three hour film, you get the first indication of the dark side of the excesses of greed and addiction - the first actually profound exploration."

    I thought the entire movie was a comedy except the end which purposely never showed the consequences of greed, excess and addiction because truly there were none. The movie was told through the eyes of a shallow, corrupt white collar criminal whose only penalty was to spend a few years in club med and to lose a family which was never important to him. His nemesis in the end made no impact and was still riding the train sweating his balls off.

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  5. The Wolf of Wall Street is a film that speaks to our times, and it is saying some very important things if we care to listen.

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