“THE WOLF OF Wall Street” is as brash, loud, excessive and debauched as its subject – the amoral, testosterone fuelled, coke snorting, pussy lusting, money addicted, gangster world of Wall Street. The, um, street that basically controls the world. It’s also occasionally, very funny, deliciously well-written (thank you Terrence Winter who also wrote most of “The Sopranos” and “Boardwalk Empire”), but overall, despite the outsized talent of its director – Martin Scorsese – not very good.
It’s the story of the real wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort, who conned millions of people from millions of dollars and who was subsequently found out, ratted on his friends and served the grand time of thirty six months in prison (about a quarter of the time a Black youth would have served had he or she been caught with a joint). The movie is based upon Belfort’s book (more ka-ching for the criminal), so it’s, let’s say, one-sided. In “The Wolf…” Scorsese takes the bold step of mirroring the life-style of excess with a filmmaking style of excess. The acting is broad (it’s “Wall Street” meets “The Hangover”), the ironies obvious, themes are hammered in (money is a drug like Coke or Quaaludes; brokers are fundamentally amoral and dishonest; to this misogynist world, women are no more than their anatomies and an easily accessible service) and, despite it’s so called factual content, the credibility, non-existent.
Call this money porn.
Samuel Johnson accused Milton in “Paradise Lost” of siding with the devil, this dark, fallen angel, who was a far more attractive personality than that of God. So it is here. Despite his overt mockery of the culture of excess, you can’t help but feel that Scorsese is fully indulging his inner Lothario in this wild romp of coke-sizzling nudity.
And yet, and yet, it’s not boring, though the middle was repetitive and sagged somewhat. As I noted, it’s often funny, such as when a Quaalude doped Belfort (Leo DiCaprio channeling Chaplin) drags himself down the steps of a country club to snake into his car and bump, crash and smash his way home; there are many vignettes that work brilliantly and there’s a stand-out cameo from a gaunt Matthew McConaughey as the very embodiment of the drug-fuelled, slightly crazed culture of Wall Street.
It’s just that, as a whole, in its mockery, parodying programs of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” it’s as empty as them. It’s a movie that slaveringly describes a kind of lifestyle even as it mocks it. It’s a dishonest movie that wants you to be revolted even as it seduces you to lust… after the cars, the homes, the wealth, the glamour, the nakedness, the sex.
Leo can be a fine, compelling and nuanced actor. But the demands of “The Wolf…” – part slapstick, part pathos – confirms that he’s not a natural comic. For in the end, he appears more of a stock character: a baddie we’re supposed to hiss at, and not a fully rounded person. Jonathan Hill, as his partner, Donnie Azoff, pulls off his role with greater subtlety…but by far, the most watchable actor in this porno-fest was Margot Robbie as Belfort’s increasingly cold, high maintenance pin-up bride, Naomi. In this very man-oriented flick, she was the one to watch.
The pity of it all!
As a parable of the culture of excess, it lacks the subtlety to convince. Far from recoiling with “the horror, the horror” of it all, it never reaches up above the navel long enough to deliver any intellectual resonance, not to mention, hint at the lives of the poor folks who were suckered in by this charlatan.