The Wolf of Wall Street
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Terrence Winter (screenplay), Jordan Belfort (book)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie and Kyle Chandler
One of the biggest bright spots in this year’s Oscar nominations is the amount of prestige bestowed on a three-hour spectacle of almost non-stop vulgarity. I have a pretty good feeling that Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street is nominated simply because of the pedigree of talent involved. It is almost as polarizing (and misunderstood) as Shutter Island, which probably would have been nominated had it been released during awards season.
Scorsese, whether or not he likes it, is an Oscar mainstay now, and would likely have to tank in an almost unfathomable way to not get attention from the voters. The Wolf of Wall Street looks kind of like an Oscar film on the surface, but it’s also everything that they typically dislike:
It’s a comedy. It’s a black comedy. It’s not self-serious. It’s three hours and not about World War II or ancient history.
The movie is designed from the ground-up around the everyday excess and debauchery of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio, never better) and his colleagues at the New York firm Stratton Oakmont. In their offices, Scorsese portrays an anarchic space of endlessly screaming executives, where a marching band plays in their underwear, people get blown in the elevator and Jonah Hill’s character eats a nerdy broker’s goldfish then fires him.
This is also the place where Belfort goes on a series of extended, frightening rants, a Quaalude king to a group of privileged minions.
This is what he says to brokers after introducing Steve Madden by offering to suck him off as they prepare to take his shoe company public:
There is no nobility in poverty. I have been a rich man and I have been a poor man, and I’d choose rich every fuckin’ time. Because at least as a rich man when I have to face my problems I show up in the back of a limo wearin’ a $2,000 suit and a $40,000 fuckin’ gold watch (throws watch to crowd)… If anyone here thinks I’m superficial or materialistic, go get a job at fuckin’ McDonald’s, ’cause that’s where you fuckin’ belong!
It’s hard for me to understand how some viewers thought this movie glamorized Belfort’s lifestyle after reading even that small a portion of his dialogue. As I noted in my initial review, this is part of the New York excess and filth that so disgusted Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. This film offers a view from the top mentality of the city simply by the narrative’s own design, but it’s not sympathetic.
“It’s obscene thinking,” Scorsese says of Belfort and the Wall Street mentality in an interview with Paul Thomas Anderson. He goes on to say the project, in part, grew out of frustration at the cyclical nature of financial manipulation, the disastrous consequences of which last manifested in 2008. Adding a specific moral statement or a character that existed purely to reaffirm the audience’s knowledge that the behavior was wrong would have popped this Wall Street’s bubble and lessened the ferocity of the movie’s vision.
Earlier in that interview, he talks about how Terrence Winter’s script not only allowed but somewhat demanded him to freewheel and improvise certain sequences to bottle the type of lightning that the finished product gives off. He isn’t lecturing on the evils of Wall Street, but creating a ruthless satire of boundless depravity. Wolf is filled with misogynists, but it is not misogynistic. In fact, the material seems to be pushing back against certain audience members looking for Scorsese’s The Hangover.
The Wolf of Wolf Street is a necessary battle cry from an artist raging against retirement. It’s a boundlessly confident artistic achievement, and a barrage of pure cinema. On second viewing, I became even more convinced that nothing should be taken out of it. In fact, there are few DVD releases I’m looking forward to more than this one, which will feature a four-hour extended cut.