The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street ★★½

for film club secret cinema

woo boy. i cannot say that i came into letterboxd looking to win friends and influence people today.

yes, i am about seven years and two million think-pieces too late in watching what is commonly considered to be scorsese's late career magnum opus. let's get this out of the way- this is by far his funniest, flashiest picture. (i laughed until i cried at certain points: thank you leo and jonah hill.) it's so devilishly entertaining you almost (almost) forget that gargantuan, foreboding run-time. it's bombastic. it's excessive. it's dizzying. it's exhilarating. it's fun. so much fun.

i'm not sure what the point was.

part of my issues are the exact opposite of the issues everyone else seems to have (of course i'm talking about those who have issues with this- we are a small and lonely group). i've seen a fair amount of complaints about being expected to spend time with reprehensible characters. i'm wondering where exactly all these people have been all this time scorsese has released movies. jordan belfort is one of his most palatable protagonists! try spending two hours watching jake lamotta hideously abuse yet another well-meaning person in his life and get back to me!

and unfortunately, that's the problem. i never got a sense of what exactly this man was doing that made him deserve the karmic ass-kicking we all knew was coming. sure, we are told that his firm is committing some very illegal, no-good acts and in passing, we get some vague sort of assurance that they're defrauding innocent people. but we're never shown that! instead, we're shown yet another scene of leo taking 'ludes and being filthy rich. the only person jordan actually seems to hurt is himself (and his wife on occasion- the movie doesn't seem that interested in this though.) this man doesn't need jail. he needs rehab and maybe a nice massage after.

look, to make it clear, i don't think this film is glamorizing jordan belfort or his lifestyle (it's not exactly not glamorizing it either but we'll be generous). it's (rightfully!) cataloguing, transmitting, piously recording the very real story of a group of men who seized the world and managed to be untethered to any sort of mortal obligations for a few sweet, sweet decades. it's a satire. to observe the excess and to be excessive is the point!

it's just... not doing much more than that. yes, we get the sense that jordan's life is getting increasingly empty as the run-time goes on and yes, there's that patented scorsese fall (tm) that occurs in the last thirty minutes or so. most of this film however is given over to the repetitive rinse-repeat of getting high and fucking blondes and making the same damn sales pitch day in day out while luxuriating in mind-blowing wealth... what is scorsese trying to say here? that outrageous lifestyles consisting of prostitutes and drugs sure are outrageous? that wall street is corrupt? don't take 'ludes when you haven't checked the expiration date? dang, boy, i could have figured those ones out by myself.

i'm not going to break the wheel here by pointing out that tonally and artistically, this is pretty much the white-collar version of goodfellas (and yes, i did love goodfellas). however, goodfellas was just as much a deconstruction of america's fascination with gangsters as it was a straightforward chronicle of henry hill's life. scorsese instinctually understood both the appeal and the danger of the mafia, he seems more out of his depth here.

there are times where the movie almost grabs me however. there are times where i can almost reach onto something genuinely interesting. the interpretation that i like best of this whole thing is that wall street and the fradulent business jordan belfort created represent a twisted ideal of the american dream. the most lasting scene for me personally is the one wherein leo paternalistically praises his underling. "kimmie," he bellows "has gucci clothes and a vacation home in the bahamas. when i knew her, all those years ago, she was a single-mom who couldn't pay her rent!" why not focus on that? more of the very real pain in leo's voice when he entreats us to remember that he's been a rich man and a poor man (and he'll choose being rich every time), less scenes of men with bad toupees mugging for the camera as they bicker over whether or not they can get away with launching someone at a bulls-eye.

we needed more of the rise, not the plateau of success that this movie stalls in for far too long. give me the hunger, desperation, the twisted means to an end that capitalism forces on far too many people. give me the anguish of those that invested in penny stock, let me see the effects of jordan's company. satire only works when it cuts and this slides down my throat far too easily.

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