Friday, January 10, 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street

*** out of ****

The Wolf of Wall Street is another demonstration of Martin Scorsese’s great craft as a filmmaker who delivers cinema with a punch after nearly half a century in the business. On the other hand, it’s essentially Goodfellas III. Our protagonist is an amoral man of great ambition. No time is wasted deconstructing our psychopathic hero. We are simply fed the narration of a person whose only regrets are not in the things he’s done, but what he failed to get away with. Once again, Scorsese also controversially bases the film on the memoir of someone who stands to benefit from a story of bad deeds they committed. I wonder if Scorsese waits in confession booths to figure out future projects.

Jordon Belfort’s memoir inspired the film’s screenplay, by Terence Winter, about the greed and excess of a self-made Wall Street tycoon who was eventually indicted and imprisoned for fraud and embezzlement (but is currently successful as a motivational speaker). Leonardo DiCaprio plays Belfort effectively within his limitations. The movie augments his stories of drug-addicted hedonistic activities among wealthy colleagues, such as his business partner, Donnie Azoff, played with loathsome hilarity by Jonah Hill. Their outrageous scenes together are among the best and most in the movie. I laughed a lot.

The same cannot be said for later scenes between DiCaprio and Margot Robbie, a gorgeous actress who plays his second wife. She creates a perfectly seductive performance but inevitably must become antagonistic later in the film. That’s where her character becomes boring.

If there’s anything I’ve resented about Scorsese, it is how he needlessly dwells on jerks and their trophy wives when their superficial relationships crumble. The scenes between DiCaprio and Robbie screaming at one another are no different than those between Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone in Casino or Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco in Goodfellas. There’s little depth to their long arguments. They’re just tedious. They also pale in comparison to the hilarity achieved between Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence in a similarly miserable relationship featured in the recent, American Hustle.

The majority of this movie is well made, but it could have used a little trimming. The last thing I heard was that Scorsese was not perfectly satisfied by the final edit but that could have been misinformation.

The unfair controversy that comes with films like this is through the idea that scumbags are being glorified. Fascination shouldn’t be mistaken for admiration. Sure, there will always be fools who want to be Scarface, or someone of the sort (despite the fact that these characters tend to be defeated). This is an age-old argument about life imitating art and art imitating life.

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