‘Wolf in Wolves’ Clothing’
The Wolf of Wall Street is being marketed as a black comedy. Fine, but this label (usually) denigrates any serious implications of important matters discussed. Watching the 179 minutes of Martin Scorsese’s new entertainment (a short three hours) finds audience members, regretfully, guffawing so loud they miss the purpose of the film.
The Wolf of Wall Street follows Jordan Belfort, a drug toting, money obsessed, Wall Street stock broker. After the stock market crash of 1987 – known as ‘Black Monday’ – the once rising star Jordan finds himself out of a job and in financial hardship. After scanning the classifieds, Jordan finds a new position at brokerage firm – at a strip mall in Long Island. Never the one to disparage a new opportunity, Jordan quickly finds a silver lining in this new occupation: none of the stocks are regulated. It doesn’t take long for this budding financial wizard to go from a sad story to Wall Street’s new luminaire, gratuitous lifestyle and all.
Scorsese fans will obviously notice the paper-thin correlation to past characters like Travis Bickle, Henry Hill, and DiCaprio’s Teddy Daniels. These leads – inherently deranged or not – rise until they plateau, then fall without a safety; at least one that is congruent with their original beliefs. Jordan Belfort is no different, except for the clothing, a “2,000 dollar suit and 35,000 dollar gold watch.” DiCaprio emulates the “Scoresean Male” as well as his past collaborations with the director and leading man predecessors, De Niro, Liotta, and Pesci. His voice is loud, typical browbeats (thankfully) limited, and nefarious energy infectious.
Before listing supporting players, two actors deserve equal acclaim as the lead. Jonah Hill and Margot Robbie give Wolf of Wall Street a well-rounded triumvirate rather than a leading-man dictatorship. Hill, who occasionally slips into useless pop-allegory, manages to re-invent the wheel of his characteristic simile stunts – “you look like (x) from (x)“– into charming chides. Robbie, a relative newcomer who enjoyed a stint on the short lived television series ‘Pan-Am’, is scandalously strident. Like most of Scorsese’s female leads, she is sexy as she is strong. In the frankly uncompromising positions the director places her in, the 23-year old Robbie preforms as if her resume was much longer. If there is one reason to see this film, it is the chemistry between these three.
For the buttressing elements of Wolf of Wall Street, Scorsese recruits everyone from Matthew McConaughey to Ethan Suplee. Don’t be deceived, some of these characters are only allowed cameo screen time; McConaughey has a bright 10-minutes, Farveau and Spike Jonze as well. For the rest, it would be tedious to judge each actor by their brief moment in the film, but to appraise on the whole: Scorsese proves it’s quality over quantity.
It’s best to compare Scorsese’s contemporary work relative to the New Hollywood directors of the 70’s he earned acclaim amongst. Thinking on Spielberg’s Lincoln , a film that (happily) fades from my memory with each passing day, Coppola’s limited releases, the questionable choices of George Lucas, and the hilly career of Woody Allen, it’s Scorsese who still teaches new techniques. This career, whether it be consistency or accurate passion, allows Wolf of Wall Street to be ambitious as it is audacious. Scorsese relies on his archetypical style while filling the director’s playbook with well-rehearsed improvisation. Notice the customary long scene length paired with contemporary content execution (martini lunch, Quaaludes, clothing). The director’s new clothes.
Yet the Wolf of Wall Street suffers during thesis presentation. Lincoln screenwriter Tony Kushner did a great disservice by juxtaposing the abolition of slavery with the current gay rights movement; these causes certainly deserve independent narratives. Wolf‘s writer Terence Winter – who you may know from the 50 Cent vehicle Get Rich of Die Tryin’* – structures a script, and with the help of Scorsese, does more to mystify than expose negative impulses of Jordan Belfort and the leaders of financial world. In the end, Wolf of Wall Street presents a bold-faced and illicit argument against corporate crime & greed, but a too exaggerated style is adopted, leaving the audience, like readers of Tucker Max’s shameful exploits, laughing rather than scoffing.