Loading...

Wolf of Wall Street Review: Martin Scorsese Attacks Excess With Excess 

Thursday, Dec 26 2013
Comments
9432343.t.jpg

Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street is the kind of movie that directors make when they wield money, power and a not inconsiderable degree of arrogance. Sprawling and extravagant, it revels in all manner of excess, including sexual debauchery, hearty abuse of liquor and Quaaludes, even dwarf-tossing. Its antihero, the crooked high-flier Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), has a Dunhill wallet where his heart should be, and he just can't stop flinging bills out of it. The movie around him guns for grandeur in the same way: There are hints of greatness, one or two artfully constructed scenes that remind you why you look forward to new Scorsese films. But as a highly detailed portrait of true-life corruption and bad behavior in the financial sector, Wolf is pushy and hollow, too much of a bad thing, like a three-hour cold call from the boiler room that leaves you wondering, "What have I just been sold?"

See also: Ten Reasons the Real-Life "Wolf of Wall Street" Is a Schmuck Who Shouldn't Be Glamorized

It's a work of bullying artistry, but at least it looks really expensive. So does DiCaprio's Jordan, with his wardrobe of bespoke suits and that Crest Whitestrips smile. Jordan is the founder of a '90s-era investment firm with a pseudo-classy name, Stratton Oakmont. His cronies, among them Jonah Hill's perpetually dazed-looking Donnie Azoff, start out knowing diddly-squat about finance. Before long, they're bending the rules and bilking ordinary folk out of millions, the better to finance mansions, yachts and trophy wives — along with their hookers and drug habits. (The movie was adapted by Terence Winter from Belfort's 2007 memoir of the same name.)

Scorsese halfheartedly follows a rags-to-riches-to-rags arc, though mostly he fixates on riches. Some of the early moments are promising: One of the funniest, most casual sections features Matthew McConaughey as one of Jordan's early mentors, earnestly advising the callow newcomer over a multi-martini lunch that, in order to be a world beater, he'll need to start masturbating more.

Scorsese doesn't pass judgment on his characters, which at first seems like a plus. But he can't get a fix on the tone; the movie has the intentionally sour spirit of Goodfellas but none of its grim humor.

Many of the bits probably are intended to be over-the-top funny and horrifying: In one sequence, a female Stratton Oakmont employee volunteers to have her head shaved in front of the staff in return for a hefty check, which, Jordan announces, she's going to use for breast implants. She submits cheerfully to the electric shaver, but we feel humiliated for her as locks of her lustrous hair fall to the floor. She's playing the boys' game, tossing her own currency into the pot, but it's all just a big guffaw for them.

One hour of that boorishness would be more than enough; by the end of the second, you might be wondering if anyone, including Scorsese, is ever going to call these guys on their self-absorbed idiocy. What, exactly, does he think of these people? Long after we've gotten the picture, Scorsese and cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto are still presenting each new, depraved revelation as if it were an infant water nymph on a lily pad, a thing of wonder they'd never seen before. If you've never heard stories about the boorishness of Wall Street types, you'll be incredibly shocked by The Wolf of Wall Street. That man snorted coke out of a hooker's butt!

Jordan eventually does fall. His second wife, a pneumatic princess he calls the Duchess (Margot Robbie), finally sees what a loser he is as a man, if not a pocketbook; the supercilious French dude (Jean Dujardin, with his crocodile smile) who's helping him hide his money in Switzerland pulls a fast one on him; and a wily FBI agent — played by the appealing Kyle Chandler, who's starting to resemble a young Robert Forster, which is miraculous — starts sniffing at his all-too-obvious trail.

But if there's nothing pleasurable or revelatory in watching these guys act like cavemen who have just discovered women, drugs and cash, it's even less fun to see them get caught. DiCaprio's Jordan is manic in a studied way; he's always leaping onto desks or writhing on floors. His turn might be more effective if he hadn't just played Jay Gatsby, in a much better performance, earlier this year. Both Gatsby and Jordan are strivers and fakers, but Gatsby aspires to elegance, not excess, and even then his greatest hope is that it can buy him love. As DiCaprio played him, he had the touching austerity of a lone silver cuff link, an incomplete man who appears to have everything.

There's nothing as complicated or as appealing in The Wolf of Wall Street, and nothing tragic, not even tragically funny. Scorsese is one of the few great, old-guard filmmakers with the clout to make movies on this scale, and this picture — dreary, self-evident, too repetitive to be much fun even as satire — is what he comes up with?

See also: How the "Wolf of Wall Street" Is Still Screwing His Real-Life Victims

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET | Directed by Martin Scorsese | Written by Terence Winter | Paramount Pictures | Citywide

Reach the writer at szacharek@villagevoice.com

Related Content

The Wolf of Wall Street
Rated R · 179 min. · 2013
Official Site: www.thewolfofwallstreet.com
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer: Jordan Belfort and Terence Winter
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey, Jonah Hill, Kyle Chandler, Jean Dujardin, Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau, Shea Whigham, Spike Jonze and John Berntal

Trailer


Now Playing

Sorry there are no upcoming showtimes for The Wolf of Wall Street

Now Showing

  1. Wed 16
  2. Thu 17
  3. Fri 18
  4. Sat 19
  5. Sun 20
  6. Mon 21
  7. Tue 22

    Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

    Sponsored by Fandor

Box Office

Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, concert and dining info & more!

Around The Web

Slideshows

  • Nicolas Cage's 10 Best Movie Roles
    As video-on-demand continues to become the preferred route of distribution for a certain kind of independent film, much is being made of Nicolas Cage's willingness to slum for a paycheck, with recent examples including already-forgotten, small-screen-friendly items like Seeking Justice, Trespass, Stolen, and The Frozen Ground. (His character names in these projects -- Will Gerard, Kyle Miller, Will Montgomery, and Jack Halcombe -- are as interchangeable as the titles of the films.) Aside from citing the obvious appeal of doing work for money (a defense Cage himself brought up in a recent interview with The Guardian), it's also possible to back Cage by acknowledging the consistency with which he's taken on "serious" roles over the years.

    David Gordon Green's Joe, which hits limited release this weekend (more details on that here), marks the latest instance of this trend, with Cage giving a reportedly subdued performance as an ex-con named Joe Ransom. In that spirit, we've put together a rundown of some of the actor's finest performances, all of which serve as proof that, though his over-the-top inclinations may make for a side-splitting YouTube compilation, Cage has amassed a career that few contemporary actors can equal. This list is hardly airtight in its exclusivity, so a few honorable mentions ought to go out to a pair of Cage's deliriously uneven auteur collaborations (David Lynch's Wild at Heart, Brian De Palma's Snake Eyes), 1983's Valley Girl, 1987's Moonstruck, and Alex Proyas's Knowing (a favorite of the late Roger Ebert).

    --Danny King
  • Ten Enduring Conspiracy Thrillers
    With the approaching release this week of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, many critics, including L.A. Weekly’s own Amy Nicholson, have noted the film’s similarities (starting with the obvious: Robert Redford) to the string of conspiracy thrillers that dominated American cinema during the 1970s. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of ten of the most enduring entries in the genre -- most of them coming from the ‘70s, but with a few early-‘80s holdouts added in for good measure. This is by no means an exclusive list, and more recent films like Roger Donaldson’s No Way Out (1987), Jacques Rivette’s Secret Defense (1998), Tony Scott’s Enemy of the State (1998), Stephen Gaghan’s Syriana (2005), and Redford’s own The Company You Keep (2012) speak to how well the genre has sustained itself over time. Words by Danny King.
  • Behind the Scenes of Muppets Most Wanted
    "The endurance of the Muppets isn't just the result of the creative skills of Henson and collaborators like Frank Oz, or of smart business decisions, or of sheer dumb luck," writes this paper's film critic Stephanie Zacharek in her review of Muppets Most Wanted. "It's simply that the Muppets are just ever so slightly, or maybe even totally, mad. Man, woman, child: Who can resist them? Even TV-watching cats are drawn to their frisky hippety-hopping and flutey, gravely, squeaky, squawky voices." Go behind the scenes with the hippety-hopping Muppets with these images.

    Read our full Muppets Most Wanted movie review.

Now Trending