Truth of the matter is, I have no idea how to review this movie so I came up with this:
The Wolf Of Wall Street - Imagine Alec Baldwin's cameo in Glengarry Glen Ross repeatedly having weird and graphic sex with the drug scenes from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas but with none of the danger and none of the meaning, extended over 3 hours and you're about half way there.
The film is about an utterly repellent, narcissistic, smug, unrepentant, soulless and swaggering young stock broker turned snake oil huckster, the sadly, very real, Jordan Belfort played by a superb Leonardo DiCaprio, who, after one martini lunch with a hilarious, cameoing, Matthew McConaughey, starts down the road of swindling people out of their money, taking massive amounts of drugs, sleeping with everything in a skirt, buying all the big ticket items you can imagine, throwing midgets at dartboards and a whole host of other taboo-breaking, debauched things guaranteed to shock some, amuse some and bore some. I was mostly amused, sometimes bored and the only shocking thing was that it was Scorsese doing it. We knew he could do violence but all of a sudden there is an early DePalma or later Kubrick level of tits and ass flying about.
Belfort starts by swindling regular folk out of thousands at a penny stock trader on Long Island and then hits on the big idea to trade penny stock to the 1% richest people because, it's all fake anyway, it's just about moving your clients money around and, most importantly, the commission is so much higher. I suppose we're meant to like him for this, the fact he's only picking on the wealthy I mean. Is this why Scorsese and DiCaprio made this? I have no idea. My natural instinct is to assume they are not in favour of this behaviour but I don't know. It is never dwelled upon WHO the clients are or what happens to them, the 1% thing is mentioned in passing briefly and never really brought up again. The ins and outs, intricacies, repercussions and downside to any of this is never shown. We never even see a failed sales call, a plumber loosing their home through bad investing or even a CEO of a fortune 500 asking "wait what about that stock I bought?". We barely even spend any time with any of the characters who may or may not disapprove with this lifestyle and to cap it off there's even a hint at the end that the FBI guy who's after these crooks, Kyle Chandler as Agent Patrick Denham, also a bit of a full-of-himself-dick, feels like it was all for nothing and humanity's not worth saving anyhow. The one character who is definitely decent, Belfort's first wife, gets dumped early and even made out to be a whining cow for not 'getting-it' like his new girlfriend does, the, admittedly, stunning Margot Robbie.
No other perspective! In a 3hr movie! It's just 3hrs of this Belfort guy doing stuff and more or less getting away with it. Seriously, that's it. Lots of drugs, excessive nudity and sex of all kinds and an extravagant lifestyle. All played for laughs, funny laughs admittedly and the script is great but there's no substance to it, whatsoever. Which wouldn't be so bad if this guy was fictitious or some of my ticket money wasn't going to this slimy, lying jackass but it is and I feel like my trusted film friends, Marty and Leo, made me culpable in the continued, wealthy existence of this prick.
Not only that but the film routinely tells you over and over again that I, or we, the audience secretly want to be like him and that we SHOULD be like him, maybe not in the debauchery exactly, but in the getting and being rich part.
I, personally, want to be successful at something and if money comes, great, if it doesn't, as long as I can eat, have a roof over my head and treat myself occasionally to some blu-rays, I'm pretty happy. Success is what I strive for and am ambitious for, not just the mindless accumulation of wealth but then, I am funny that way.
Some, in fact, many reviews have suggested that this film is really a biting attack on people like Belfort but that kind of misses the fact that
A) at no point in the film is Belfort really attacked. There's no real tragedy that befalls him that he can't happily and smugly buy his way out of, well no tragedy that is looked at with any depth for more than 2 seconds or that he shows any signs of being really bothered by, that is
B) Belfort wrote the book this is based on and happily appears in it, introducing and praising the Hollywood version of himself, on stage at a public speaking gig, no less.
Now I am not a prude or a killjoy, I am not against sex, drugs or midget tossing, neither am I an economist, I don't pretend to understand Wall Street and I don't think Wall Street pretends to understand itself. I assume it's mostly loud mouth folks 'winging it' with each other and patting themselves on the back A LOT, regardless of whom their actions hurt, but I don't know for sure. I choose, however, in my life, not to spend time with people like that because I find ego, swagger, braggadocio, smugness and a sickening lust for wealth without skill or substance, completely and utterly sickening. Spending 3hrs with these guys then was just aggravating.
I have just watched some video of Scorsese, DiCaprio, Terence Winter and Jonah Hill and firstly they seem to think the film is critical of Belfort's actions back then and Wall Street now and they also seem to think that Belfort was punished for his crime. The trouble with that is, he's not punished and even says so in the script. Secondly the film laughs with and at Belfort but never really criticises or judges him, unless you as an audience member choose to. In fact it implies, even with its last shot, that we, the audience, should be enthralled by him. DiCaprio called the book bravely embarrassing and said it was a modern day Caligula story but Caligula was assassinated, no such luck with Belfort unfortunately. Terence Winter, the screenwriter, seems to believe this all really happened when clearly Belfort made vast sections of it up, much in the way idiotic teenagers brag to each other about sexual conquests that never took place.
So here's the dilemma I'm in:
The film, technically, is very good. It's very funny, the script is excellent, it's performed brilliantly by all involved, it's directed with the usual Scorsese flair and, although, it has no business being 3hrs long, those 3hrs don't drag. However I don't like it's politics or purpose (intentional or unintentional), I don't like the story or the person that's the focus of the story and I don't like the assumptions about me or the audience that the film makes and never sufficiently rebukes.
Can you like a movie based on skill of production alone?
It is truly an eye-opening and fantastic central performance by Dicaprio, I mean seriously unhinged and a joy to watch with some impressive and bravado speeches. His greatest scene though is when, partially incapacitated by quaaludes, he has to make it out of the country club and into his car. It's the most phenomenal physical comedy I have seen this year. Also Jonah Hill is surprising, wonderful and genuinely funny in his role. All the actors are great, every single one, with not a weak link anywhere. They are helped, of course, by a first rate script, when it comes to dialogue. When it comes to a point to be made or a reason this story is being told in the first place, then it's terrible but in terms of jokes, discussions and weird characters, the script is spot on. As for Scorsese, I have heard this, in more than one review, called his best or second best film ever. Admittedly one of the people who wrote that, a lady from The Los Angeles Times no less, believed The Departed was his best film, so take it all with a pinch of salt but this is far from his best work. This wasn't even as good as Shutter Island. It looks beautiful and everything but this needed a little more Casino and a little less Eyes Wide Shut.
I am going to wrestle with this film a long time. There's a lot of fun to be had and it's definitely entertaining but it's like a masterful Scorsese montage that never begins or ends or tells you anything at all.
I also think that if it was a fiction it would be fine but it's, apparently, mostly true.
Someone on another blog put it perfectly when they said
"would Anchorman still be as funny if Ron Burgundy was a real person and the movie based on a book he wrote himself?" - Vince Mancini, Filmdrunk
Just to clarify, though, I don't not like Jordan Belfort or his colleagues because of some misguided, moral correctness screaming "oh the depravity", some working class jealousy or hate of the rich and I also didn't understand the scam well enough to hate what they were doing to people on a social level and was, actually, told in the film not to worry about it and just understand that they made lots of money! I just hate him because he's a smug, unrepentant prick who wrote a self-aggrandising book about how crazy and great he is and how he beat the system because he had gobs of money. Honesty and humility go a long way and Jordan's ego did capsize the movie for me.
It was like when Piers Morgan took a hard line on gun control, I agreed with him completely but it's Piers Morgan, even when he's right you want to take a paddle to the fucker.
6 out of 10