Review: The Wolf of Wall Street (Scorsese, 2013)

I was the one who insisted on watching this movie on New Year’s Day with my in-laws, knowing nothing about the film except that it was another Scorsese-DiCaprio partnership and, obviously, had something to do with Wall Street. We had already bought the tickets when our friends told us that the picture had stirred up a lot of controversy over its graphic, and some say gratuitous, sex scenes. Ah well. I made sure to put as many people between my husband’s parents and me as I could.

In the end, it wasn’t the sex scenes that disappointed. Perhaps my expectations were too high to begin with. I’d been looking forward to this movie for at least a year (every once in a while I succumb to a desire to IMDB-stalk Leonardo DiCaprio, a holdover from my high school teeny bopper days when I was taken in by his role in Baz Luhrmann‘s Romeo + Juliet). I remembered all the other times Scorsese and DiCaprio have collaborated–Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island–and all of them were good movies. (The Departed, which left me a nervous wreck the first time I watched it, has since become one of my favorite films. I’m always left unaccountably excited after I watch it.) So maybe my disappointment was an inevitability.

Everyone I talked to, even the people who disliked the movie, lauded DiCaprio’s acting. To me, though, it was just more of the same. He is always that screaming, desperate, intense, half-crazy character. I first realized it when I read a review of Sam Mendes‘ Revolutionary Road (based off of a fantastic novel by Richard Yates) that pointed it out to me. Until then I’d thought he was good. Now I approach each movie like a nervous mother, waiting for him to show me something I haven’t seen before. I’m still waiting.

Taken scene by scene, The Wolf of Wall Street is entertaining in a shocking, naked sort of way. But it soon gets repetitive, and three hours is a long time to endure the endless debauchery and waste and cruelty and terrible cynicism. I laughed along with the rest of the audience, of course–you can’t not laugh at the Quaaludes scene–but at some point I wearied of it. I couldn’t help wondering where we were going. Was I just there to be entertained? I was sick of Hollywood pandering to its basest expectations of me. Nevertheless, I disagree with those critics who suggest that Scorsese exalts the excesses of Wall Street criminals. He just shows it as it is. For those who aspire to be like Jordan Belfort or other hot-shot broker millionaires who flaunt the law, they’ll love what they see here. For those who are already aghast at what they’ve heard about Wall Street, this movie will just confirm their worst suspicions. (That said, this film is probably just going to make the real Belfort richer. His claim that he’s turning over 100% of his profits to the government as restitution to his victims seems to be just another con.)  In the end, I walked out of the movie thinking, Well, there went three hours… What was it all for?

Notes: 1) It was so odd to see Jonah Hill and Leonardo DiCaprio in a movie together. Like two circles of friends colliding. 2) Check out this clip of a reluctant DiCaprio endorsing Jordan Belfort’s motivational speaking seminars. Hilarious.

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