The Wolf of Wall Street is based on the memoir of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) who founded the brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont and committed quite a handful of frauds. Directed by Martin Scorsese (Hugo) the movie chronicle’s Belfort’s descent into a world of crime, drugs and devastation.
And despite some mixed reviews and a lot of controversy surrounding its release I found myself enjoying the movie quite a lot – although enjoying might be the wrong phrase to use when we are talking about a 3 hour story about horrible people doing horrible things.
What we get and what we think we get
The movie gets promoted as a sort of lighthearted comedy about a scammer who made a lot of money on Wall Street by selling worthless shares to his clients (among other things) and therefore has come under heavy critical flack. Many controversies arose about the movie downplaying the crimes of Belfort. So I was very skeptical if the press statements from Scorsese and DiCaprio about intentionally telling the story only through Belfort’s eyes and therefore never focusing on the victims were just a way of damage control.
But after seeing Scorsese’s to date longest movie I can safely say that the movie is about as controversial as Zero Dark Thirty. Meaning:
If you really want to see a movie that glorifies Belfort then it is not the author’s fault. Never once does Scorsese orchestrate Belfort as a good guy. Sure, we are somehow sympathizing with him but for a large part this is because of DiCaprio’s charming performance and the wit of the dialog.
The hateful life
Jordan Belfort is a terrible person.
His view of women, his substance abuse, the fact that his entire fortune is built upon selling worthless stocks to rich people makes him a very hard character to root for.
But Hitchcock’s philosophy proves true again that the audience will always sympathise with the character who is in danger of being discovered – no matter what the character has done. There were moments when I found myself rooting for Belfort to get away even though back in my head I knew that after all he had done he should be in jail for quite some time – but hey, that’s the fun thing about art, isn’t it?
The same goes for his colleagues (among them Jonah Hill). They are a group of horrible people so the entire story is about terrible people doing terrible things to others who we never see in person. The closest we get is Belfort’s wife (Cristin Milioti) addressing the fact that what he is doing is robbing people and an article pointing out the hypocrisy of Belfort.
But other than that we are on a downwards spiral from the moment that Matthew McConaughey introduces Belfort to the horrible nature of the Broker life. It has to be said that McConaughey’s very short role is probably the highlight of the movie so it is unfortunate that he only appears for such a limited amount of screentime.
The movie behind the promoted image
Maybe it was because I heard so much about the scandal and how disrespected some people feel, that the movie felt more like a drama than a comedy. The first 2 acts are structured similarly to any other movie about a man finding a way to use his talent and the way he rises up. But in the final act the drama takes overhand and we are watching Belfort descend into something that not many people will want to become.
He might not get immediate punishment but the way he lives his life – especially when it comes to his family – is unnerving and at times very frightening. What was funny and in a way bold in the first half becomes scary and pathetic later on.
Maybe a bit too long?
There is no way to argue around this: Wolf of Wall Street is a long movie. There are countless orgies and drug sequences that get worse and more chauvinistic as the movie progresses. Despite this Scorsese is still delivering a well made product. At no point was I bored although I felt the running time.
Title: The Wolf of Wall Street
Wolf of Wall Street is a movie that will spark debate for a while to come and just because of that it is a good thing that the movie exists. It might be too long for its own good but carried by strong performance and top notch work behind the camera the movie gets away with things other productions might stumble over.