Film Review: The Wolf of Wall Street
Hotly anticipated, slightly controversial and praised by critics and film goers alike. These are things that could be said for any number of Martin Scorsese films and The Wolf of Wall Street is certainly no exception.
Interestingly enough, perhaps the very term ‘Martin Scorsese film’ is the most debatable of terms. With film long having been on its way out really since the beginning of the twenty first century, The Wolf of Wall Street has the unique distinction of being the first major motion picture to be distributed entirely on the digital format. However, despite the contention this may (and has) caused among many critics and academics, I really must admit that not much has been lost. The Wolf of Wall Street is (among its many wonders) a visually breathtaking piece.
Based on the memoirs of Jordan Belfort, the film is a decadent orgy of drugs, sex, money and power more than anything else. In terms of the narrative we are met with a very familiar formula, one that we have come to love from other Scorsese works and it works here as well as it did in his best film, Goodfellas. It is within his 1990 gangster epic that we find the best comparisons to The Wolf of Wall Street. It is also where we find an understanding of the biggest problem that this film has faced.
Much of the controversy that has surrounded this film comes from the way it treats the films protagonist and his inner circle of equally hedonistic men. Many have argued that the film glorifies a morally deplorable lifestyle. A father, husband and man of incredible power who rather than choosing to use that power for good he prioritizes the pursuit of carnal pleasures above all else. This is one criticism that I would disagree with strongly and indeed to agree with this position is to perhaps miss the point of the whole thing.
Where as in Goodfellas we are met with equally (if not more so) morally confrontational characters, we actually grow to love those characters. Ray Liotta as Henry Hill is in some ways repentant for his sins and indeed overall, the tone of that film is ultimately rather different. The Violence, drug use and debauchery is dramatic, epic and everyone seems to have paid their dues in some way of another by the time the story ends. The Wolf of Wall Street does none of this, it never even attempts to. Belfort, who is portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in one of his all time best performances, is in no way a likeable character. He is entertaining for sure, however he is not very charming and in the brief seconds that he is, we are already know that we should not be fooled by it. This is in no way a fault of Dicaprio’s performance; it is great and probably does deserve the Oscar. If anything, it is a praise of his skill and dare to play a leading role in a film that really does not care if you like the main character or not, despite the fact that the film gives almost no point of view or understanding of the world presented than that of Jordan Belfort. Also, I am not sure if I am the only one who noticed this, but does Dicaprio actually turn into both Ray Liotta and Jack Nicholson in this film at several points?
Further on, nearly all of the performances in this film are rather impressive. Australian Margot Robbie is unbelievably sexy and she really does fill the title of "Duchess” that is given to her by Belfort. However what initially shocked me and what still does, is Jonah Hill. I fucking hate Jonah Hill. I had not seen any of his more dramatic rolls before this film (and I am not sure if I would call this film a drama really) and I was fond of likening him to Jack Black. The same sort of fat, kinda dorky, funny man who always really plays the same roll because he cannot do anything else. I was so happily mistaken upon seeing The Wolf of Wall Street and Hill also really deserves the Oscar for his performance. If there is one performance in this film that I left remembering and smiling about, it was not DiCaprio, it was Hill.
Not all roles are played so strongly and Matthew McConaughey is, as always, god awful, no matter what anyone else says, they are wrong.
The one thing that I will say about The Wolf of Wall Street that is truly problematic is its portrayal of women. Now, I am not one who will often say much about misogyny on screen, indeed women being treated appallingly is one that cinema has always (and at times still can be) done well. That is a statement about the power of film and the power of women on film, not a misogynistic one.
However, it MUST be done well and Scorsese has proven that he can; but here it is not. The film seems to be within a misogynistic patriarchal universe and to a certain extent that is true and proven. However, some scenes within this film caused me to question exactly why they are present, including a scene early on in which a women’s head is shaved for entertainment. Perhaps it is because a film that appears to be assuming a near ignorance of the presence of women (aside from being exploitive sex/entertainment objects) still has a moment or two given to a female broker who speakers of her Chanel suit and power. Maybe it would have been more acceptable if this image of female equality was removed entirely and the film would not seem to contradict itself.
There is much that can be said about this film and I really think that as almost any of Scorsese’s best work it requires multiple viewings (I have only seen the film twice) and needs to be thought about over and over. At three hours or so the film has been said to be a bit long, Scorsese saying himself that he wrestled to get the film to that length. However the film is terribly engaging, entertaining and funny and I would have been happy to have it go for another hour or even two.
The Wolf of Wall Street is a film that throws its morals to the wind and makes you watch people who you should not like for three hours and actually never asks you to like them. This is incredibly rare in mainstream cinema and should be commended as possibly the films biggest strength because it allows you to make your own judgments, whilst still being entertained. Hugely morally ambivalent and carefree, The Wolf of Wall Street is a lighthearted trip through a world, through the eyes and the life of a man who really does not give a fuck about anyone or anything outside his own desires. A lighthearted trip through a fairly dark space.
I really don’t feel as if I can even give this film a rating at this time, but I would love to hear your opinions on it so pop them in the comments below.