“The Wolf of Wall Street” Bites Off Just Enough To Chew

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There are maybe a few hundreds of billions of reasons for the average person to despise the white collar rich man. As far as we understand those creatures, they’ve pillaged and plundered their way into the bank accounts of the poor and caused financial crisis after crisis. The brilliant documentary ‘Inside Job’ put it together nicely for us back in 2010. And if that was too cut and dry for you, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ is the narrative to accompany that analysis.

Not to sound too harsh, but that’s possibly all this new Martin Scorsese hit is; another person’s film in clever packaging. No matter how interesting you find it, this is a new spin on a folk tale told too often since the US financial collapse of 2008.

The film is told from the perspective of the Wolf himself, Jordan Belfort (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), a self-made billionaire who starts his own stock empire the same way most do – illegally and irreverently. A little-advertised fact about the film is that it’s based on a true story – there is a real Jordan Belfort, and the film’s screenplay is based on his memoir (which apparently does include all the drug- and prostitute-filled escapades that the film so generously displays).

Sadly, this tale is not told in a way that’s atypical of the myth of the Wall Street Giants – eat, steal, rave, repeat. The scriptwriting makes no attempt to be clever in its building of the setting or the characters inhabiting it, instead feeding viewers exactly what they expect of the lifestyles of the rich and famous. It’s not bothersome because it’s incorrect or anything. It simply doesn’t cut it because it’s average. Too average a script for Scorsese and DiCaprio to pick up in my mind. There isn’t any real richness to setting or character, no complexity that is signature of their work together in recent years.

DiCaprio’s portrayal as a rich b***h doesn’t miss a beat. He’s energetic, responsive, and as usual goes the extra mile even for scenes that don’t seem to need it. However, the role doesn’t seem to provide him much challenge. It’s not a character that calls for the vulnerability or dynamism that made hits out of his other collabs with Scorsese, like ‘The Aviator’ and ‘Shutter Island’. DiCaprio’s Belfort could very well be the lazy combination of his Howard Hughes and Calvin Candie.

Jonah Hill (MoneyballSuperbad), however, does a tremendous job in the supporting role as Donnie Azoff in the film. The film’s most revealing, emotive and mostly catastrophic moments come from his portrayal. He shares the successes and fears of the film on his face, and has a character that is clearly defined by the things that he does and is done around him. While I find myself somewhat surprised by DiCaprio’s Best Actor nomination, Hill deserves his Best Supporting Actor nod and and then some.

The issue with any of these two men winning is that there is truly not enough script to say that characters actually exist in this film. Outside of these two characters – Belfort and Azoff – everyone else seems to be elaborately named props. There’s no real motivation for anything in the film outside of making money, taking drugs and having sex. Which is maybe what motivates most Wall Street rich b***hes, but doesn’t make for an incredibly fun movie.

Depending on your perspective, 569 instances of the f-word may make for a fun movie. And if that’s the case, this is your cup of tea. The film literally swears at a rate of 3.16 f-words per minute, making it the second most obscene film since 1983’s Scarface. That’s actually more obscene than Scorsese’s own film ‘The Departed’. That, plus the plethora of random naked women and drug abuse as a plot point in the film portrays only two real protagonists – capitalism and debauchery.

Now, don’t get me wrong at all, this film is brilliantly directed. The country club scene, for instance, is golden (you’ll understand if you see it), and no scene feels out of place or gratuitous…save maybe for the f-bombs. But the film just doesn’t stand out beyond DiCaprio’s star power and the hype of the film.

Running time: 179 minutes (2 hours, 59 minutes)
3.5/5 stars

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