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Film Review: 'The Wolf Of Wall Street'

Andre Gray |
December 28, 2013 | 12:28 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Oh, Leo, let's be rich together (Paramount).
Oh, Leo, let's be rich together (Paramount).

Martin Scorsese’s latest film "The Wolf of Wall Street" is a three-hour bloodrush, following ambitious manic Jordan Belfort as he sets out in the stockbroker business, and quickly tractors into obscene wealth.

The movie is based on the true story of Jordan Belfort and his partner Donnie Azoff, played by Leonardo Di Caprio and Jonah Hill, respectively, who made a fortune by selling junk stocks and artificially inflating market prices. 

Without seeing the movie, we already know what’s going to happen to Belfort: he’ll go up, and then come crashing back down. And he does. Belfort and his band of coked-up lost boys build a criminal sensation from the ground up, only to be caught by the FBI millions of dollars later. 

But what makes the film’s classic rise and fall memorable is that Belfort never really falls. He has his low points sure, but the movie’s vigor never lets up. There’s no moment of existential pondering amongst the hills of cocaine and cash wads, no transition between good and evil. Belfort is just a really good salesman with a really messed up “richness is salvation” philosophy. 

Not once are we given a glimpse of his investing victims, the families bamboozled out of their savings, because, as Matthew McConaughey’s character makes clear early on, they don’t matter. The audience doesn’t get to see them because Wall Street never sees them. To Belfort, they’re the invisible suckers that possess all of his greed with none of his ambition. By dehumanizing them, Belfort clears space in his narrative for more female nudity. 

Critics of the film complain about its misogyny, giddy machismo, and irresponsible exaltation of the stockbroker. What most of them don’t seem to get is the comedy of the whole thing. Belfort’s attempts to drag himself to his Ferrarri after drugs have repressed his motor skills, his inexplicable pass at his elderly aunt-in-law, playing darts with little people; the movie offers therapeutic laughter about a financial system that is justifiably laughable. 

It’s a hot and cold exaggeration. Scenes of grandeur, like one where 20 million dollars in cash is smuggled into a Swiss Bank account, inspire open-mouthed awe and lead us to the border of temptation, while other times Belfort’s trading office comes off as a silly, homoerotic, Indian-chanting cult of frat boys. 

An indulgent amount of women crowd the sets, more furniture than people, not because Scorsese is misogynistic, but because it contributes to his image of Wall Street as its own special brand of pornography. It’s all skin-on-skin, power tripping, and hormones. The whole thing resembles a fantastical chocolate factory, with Belfort as a deranged Wonka. Leonardo Di Caprio’s acting is intelligent, drawing us towards his character with magnetic monologues, and pushing us back again with mad, red-faced testosterone. He abuses drugs and prostitutes to the point where it’s more masochistic than anything. And it’s a lot of fun to watch him do it. 

"The Wolf of Wall Street" is more than just a commentary on excess. Belfort tries to buy his way to transcendence, constantly searching for sensation in every shape and form. He doesn’t get everything he wants, but he doesn’t lose either. Being rich works out. It works out so well in fact that even the film’s good guys kind of want to be rich. And were not really sure how to react to that. Why aren’t we more ashamed? Is it ok to be excited? And more importantly, could we have done it too? Hypothetically, of course. 

Watch the movie's trailer below.

Reach Staff Reporter Andre Gray here.



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