Do these images look ridiculous to you? Yes? Good. You’re probably a decent human being. No? Then I’m concerned about your morals (or lack thereof).
Am I making a snap judgement about this film? Absolutely. Does it deserve some skepticism and perhaps a closer look? Not really, but if you insist.
Martin Scorsese has one of the longest, most prolific, and highly lauded careers in Hollywood. I really don’t need to say any more than that. The man is a living legend, and based on many of the excellent films he’s created, that legacy is well-deserved.
The Wolf of Wall Street, however, is a new low. It was nominated for Best Picture because the director is super-famous and the Academy loves taunting Leonardo Di Caprio with empty promises. Yeah, the man should win an Oscar, but not for this cluster****.
To those of you who jump to the film’s defense, pointing out that it’s supposed to be a black comedy, yes: you have a point. The film is, at times, hilarious, especially during most of the Jonah Hill scenes. Hill is fabulous, and I genuinely enjoyed his performance despite its awful context. But even Jonah Hill and the also-wonderful Jean Dujardin couldn’t save this film. Hell, I even thought Margot Robbie did a good job even though the character she portrayed was a sexist stereotype.
Let me make something clear: my issue with this film has very little to do with the common critiques, e.g., there are too many drugs; there’s boobs everywhere!; it broke the record for the word “f***” being said in a drama film. I understand that the film is supposed to depict a rancid world, and it does that very, very well.
My issue is that allegedly, the movie is supposed to make audiences feel disgusted by the type of lifestyle being portrayed by ultimately casting judgement on the title character, Jordan Belfort. Instead, the probes from the Securities and Exchange Commission are written off as jokes—we are encouraged, in fact, to admire Belfort’s cleverly evasive techniques—and Belfort’s eventual arrest is portrayed as little more than an inconvenience. Drugs are bad, yeah, yeah, yeah, but in the film they are the basis for an endless series of jokes. In other words, the bottom line seems to be: Yes, the man committed numerous crimes to construct his dystopia, but when that dystopia is filled with mansions, yachts, hookers, and trophy wives, should we care? I’m unconvinced Scorsese really wanted to use this film as an opportunity to teach a lesson. If anything, I suspect that it will re-encourage and sanction the lifestyle that many naive and morally adrift fortune-seekers are trying to attain, all in the name of the American Dream.
Moreover, for all the hours and hours of movie, there are surprisingly few technical details. What, exactly, was Belfort doing that was so sketchy or illegal? Besides the rather obvious money laundering, I mean. The ambiguity in which these crimes are enshrouded further emphasizes the point that Scorsese isn’t concerned with what the crimes are or who they hurt, but rather the kind of lifestyle they enabled. In total, the film further normalizes this type of ravenous anti-social behavior in the eyes of the general public, who already allow wealth-seekers to accumulate sociopathic levels of richness.
Next, as in many of Scorsese’s films, we are implicitly made to realize that we are watching a story about a man’s world, in which women are accessories. This is, undoubtedly, a feature of Jordan Belfort’s own story full of misogyny and hookers. But, ahem, I really find it difficult to believe that Scorsese hasn’t been eviscerated for the sexism in his films. Gangs of New York: One hot blonde character, played by Cameron Diaz. Shutter Island: One hot blonde character, played by Michelle Williams, who’s also crazy. The Departed: One prominent female character, played by the blond-ish Vera Farmiga. The pattern continues throughout many of his other films, which usually feature just one prominent female character whose main purpose is to be a romantic interest for (one of) the men. They typically have little agency, as they are usually either purely ornamental (Robbie in Wolf) or act as nurses for the male protagonist (Diaz in Gangs, Beckinsale in The Aviator). There might be an excellent body of literature on this already. If anyone knows of any academic papers, news articles, or books discussing sexism in Scorsese’s films, please let me know in the comments below.
Also inexcusable was the poor editing. I lost count of the number of times I saw a misplaced arm or water glass. People magically moved two feet in between instantaneous cuts, and one time—I kid you not—the mouth movements of a character speaking in profile didn’t match the dialogue. Several of the scenes—nay, the entire movie—were drawn out and/or unnecessary. It felt cheap, like Scorsese attempted to turn one of Judd Apatow’s lower comedies into an Oscar flick. (wait a sec.) They attempted to make an epic out of something that deserved nothing more than the standard run time, if it even deserved that.
The Wolf of Wall Street is not a cautionary tale for would-be brokers. Rather, it’s a shocking example of the catastrophe that results from overblown budgets, blockbuster actors roped into playing despicable characters, and directors who consider themselves above criticism. The mere fact that so many have pointlessly defended the film, calling it an indictment rather than a condonement, means that the satire wasn’t successfully achieved. Save yourself the time and the agony and watch a real attack on this type of lifestyle, American Psycho, instead.
Overall grade: D.