Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street

When I visited my father in Las Vegas earlier this month, we saw The Wolf of Wall Street.

The Wolf of Wall Street starring Leonardo DiCaprio; with Jonah Hill & Margot Robbie; directed by Martin Scorsese; (2013) - Official Website

I think we saw Wolf of Wall Street in its final week of theatrical release as it wasn't playing in Las Vegas or the Bay Area the following week.

With Wolf of Wall Street, I saw all nine films (in a movie theater) which were nominated for Best Picture at this year's Oscars.  I saw eight of the nine prior to the awards ceremony.  That's the first time I have seen all nominated films from a given year.  When I check the nominees from previous years as far back as the 1930s and 1940s, I still cannot find a year in which I have seen all nominated films.

To recap, the nine nominated films this year were:

12 Years a Slave (winner)
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity 
Her 
Nebraska
Philomena
The Wolf of Wall Street

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The Wolf of Wall Street doesn't need much of a recap because it received so much press.  It is based on the memoirs of Jordan Belfort who founded Stratton Oakmont, a brokerage firm.  DiCaprio portrays Belfort in the film.

My father will frequently doze off during a film but I noticed he didn't close his eyes once during Wolf of Wall Street.  The subject matter of the film does not lend itself to subtlety.  The film revolves around coked up, testosterone laden stock brokers with too much money and behaving badly in their professional and personal lives - sex, drugs and IPOs.

DiCaprio and Jonah Hill as his chief lieutenant essentially form comedy duo as they bounce from one misadventure to another - smuggling cash out of the country, Quaalude induced silliness, sailing their yacht into a storm, etc.  Injecting more comedy into this film than I'm used to, Scorsese blunts some of the cautionary aspects of The Wolf of Wall Street.  At times, the scenes from the film call to mind a Roman orgy and DiCaprio plays Belfort as an unrepentant libertine & bullshitter...so much so that Belfort has deluded himself.

At three hours, you wonder how Scorsese can fill so much screen time.  He does so by dispensing with a coherent plot for long stretches.  Scenes of debauchery & drug use dot the film throughout and add little to the story except to continually reinforce the concept of excess which Belfort & his cronies practiced with abandon.  I can't help but wonder if Scorsese called upon his own experiences in the 1970s to inform the film.  Scorsese must have seen a kindred spirit in Belfort.

The Wolf of Wall Street isn't a film on par with Goodfellas or Taxi Driver.  It shows the rise & fall of Jordan Belfort but he seems to be immune to any kind of self-introspection which gives the film an empty feeling.  The Wolf of Wall Street is immensely watchable with several strong performances but afterwards, you feel unfulfilled which may very well have been the point.

Given the current resentment of the 1%, the film seems to validate this point of view which is a sad indictment of the American Dream.  In Scorsese & DiCaprio's hands, the American Dream is nothing more than a con game and the best way to get ahead is by lying and taking advantage of other people's greed.  It's not the first time this sentiment has been expressed in film but Scorsese's considerable cinematic √©lan elevates Wolf of Wall Street to something beyond itself.

The Wolf of Wall Street was three of the most enjoyable hours I have spent in a movie theater but I can't call it a great film; it's great fun but not a great film.

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