The fundamental problem with Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street is that it doesn't know what, exactly, it wants to be. It seems to know it's a movie (and a long one, clocking in at three hours). It also seems aware that its strengths lie in its performances (here's looking at you, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, and perhaps most strikingly, Matthew McConaughey). But outside of that, and a few beautifully artful shots, what the movie sought to do is anyone's guess.
I love Martin Scorsese. He, in turn, loves criminals. He loves rats. He thinks they're fascinating. He glamorizes his bad boys, often cloaking their amorality beneath a sheen of beauty (Gangs of New York, Boardwalk Empire) or, as was the case in this film (and also Goodfellas), a deliberate, cartoon-like disconnect.
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But even Henry Hill and Bill the Butcher do not exist as static characters in a vacuum. Hill comes to regret his decisions, aching for his former life. Bill is so tied to his beliefs about the New America that he is willing to die for them. These characters present you with a reason to watch them. You accept the task happily regardless of their misdeeds because they are dynamic, engaging characters.
This is not the case for DiCaprio's Jordan Belfort. Scorsese picked another real-life criminal in Belfort, the founder of the infamous Stratton Oakmont. The question I couldn't shake while watching was one that went unanswered for the film's duration: Why am I supposed to care about this guy? Why am I supposed to want to spend three hours of my life with him? The only crumb I was able to scoop up was the relationship between DiCaprio's Belfort and Jonah Hill's Donnie. But I'll be real, if I want to spend time appreciating the fact that reprehensible weirdos have friends too, I'll just watch Jersey Shore.
If the movie was meant to be a comedic satire, it would have done well to nix at least three of DiCaprio's lengthier monologues. By its very nature, comedy is not served by proselytizing. Also there should be a rule that Leonardo DiCaprio can never again appear on a boat in distress in a film -- it makes the jokes too easy.
I have no issue with long movies. In fact, I kind of love them -- when they earn their length. This one didn't. In the time it took to watch Wolf of Wall Street, I could have watched American Psycho and at least part of Goodfellas -- which, in a diluted form, is basically what Scorsese is asking you to do.
In fact, maybe you should do just that. Go check out some films that tackle some of this movie's major themes* (greed, excess, the origin of criminality) more effectively**.
It's just like this movie -- only good, and about the Mafia, not stocks. Also RAY LIOTTA.
2. American Psycho
Leonardo DiCaprio plays a smiling, lovable monster. Christian Bale's Patrick Bateman struggles to keep up this mask in the face of '80s excess and just winds up killing a bunch of people. Terrifying, but a story with much more to say.
3. Jerry Maguire
Cameron Crowe's flick has Tom Cruise suffering a nervous breakdown and then changing his life in a series of fits and starts. Giving up greed can make you. That's a message I can get behind.
4. There Will Be Blood
"I drank your milkshake. I DRRRANK IT UP!" 'Nuff said.
5. Broadcast News
What's that you say? You want to watch a movie about a Hollywood-friendly industry that's a comedy about ambition and morality? WELL HERE YOU GO. Also, Holly Hunter is in it -- your argument is invalid.
Have you seen the movie -- did you like it? What's your favorite film with a 'bad guy' hero?
Image via Red Granite Productions
*Please note, I'm not even BEGINNING to talk about the role of women in this movie or I'd need to lie down in the dark and cry for the future. And yeah "It was the '80s," but guess what? IT IS NOT THE '80s NOW.
**ALSO THE MUSIC WAS RIDICULOUS. RIDICULOUS!