Before I get to my evisceration of this film, I think exploring context will be particularly relevant for this review. Contextually, some cave paintings were amazing for their time. But, if you were to put a particularly impressive cave etching in a museum with absolutely no context as to where it came from, or what it is next to Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory” – it might pale in its comparative impact and resonance in the eyes of an uneducated viewer. However, if you played Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 right after the Beatles’ “Come Together”, it might be a bit more of an apples and oranges type of reaction. Perhaps one piece would speak to you more than the other, but both have stood the test of time in being appreciated compositions, REGARDLESS of the context of when and how they were created.
The best movies and art tend to be pieces that don’t need context to explain their brilliance. Universal talent and appeal should just emanate from the artwork. Great art does not need a historian or a film buff to explain why it is great. That’s not to say that context can’t greatly enhance one’s enjoyment of something. I really like to dive into behind the scenes factoids of my favorite albums and movies. Knowing that Axl Rose was actually engaging in a spontaneous sex act inside the recording booth during the recording of “Rocket Queen” definitely increases my amusement with the song. But, I didn’t need to know that bit of information to recognize that the song was appealing to me from the very first listen. Whether it’s a painting or a song, a 300 level college course and a full biography of the artist shouldn’t be required in order to provoke a response from the audience.
That being said, if you view this movie in a vacuum(without knowing who directed it, or if it’s based on anything in reality or not), it’s a pretty miserable experience. I will not be offering a compliment sandwich here. So, instead of two pieces of bread, I’ll lead with the one small piece of crust the film left me with. The first 20 minutes of the film’s 179 minute running time(ugh) is about the only enjoyable part of the movie. Playing stockbroker Mark Hannah, Matthew McConaughey is the sole highlight in a sea of relentless overacting.
After Jordan Belfort’s(Leonardo DiCaprio) mildly amusing voice-over montage describing his life of excess, we are briefly treated to McConaughey’s chest-beating, coked-up psycho lunch scene – which was admittedly, engaging. But, having this nugget of potential actually made the rest of the movie all the more miserable by comparison. The scene where Jordan’s wife Naomi(Margot Robbie) gives him a massive, cruel cocktease is a perfect microcosm for the movie’s effect on its viewer : cerebral blue balls. I could never sit through this movie again – It’s too long, it’s irritating, it’s predictable, and it’s repetitive.
We get to watch the same 4 scenes over and over again. Scene 1 : Jordan speaking into a microphone(wtf?) and whipping the troops into a frenzy with some over the top Gordon Gecko inspired “money = all that matters in life” pep rally. I think we get this scene on 7 separate occasions. Scene 2 : Jordan does drugs and has sex with a whore(maybe 15 times?). Scene 3 : Jordan panics about something as his world is falling apart (x4). Scene 4 : Some variation of frat party style hijinks that are supposed to shock and amuse the audience (x33). No wonder the movie felt like an eternity. Jesus, I got the point in the first 30 minutes, I didn’t need to re-watch it 5 more half-hours consecutively. And speaking of repetition, the movie literally set a film record for number of times the word “fuck” is uttered(506). Let’s be clear, excessive cursing does not equal a bad movie. If anything, most of my favorites tend to feature a healthy dose of harsh language. But, when you are writing anything, you might want to use your punctuation sparingly. Perhaps I should write my next blog entry using an exclamation point at the end of every sentence! That might lose its intended effect after a while! Don’t you think !????!?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So, how did all this excess make its way into the final cut? I imagine Thelma Schoonmaker(editor) sweating bullets in an edit bay while Martin Scorsese vehemently rejects every cut she suggests with a gun at the back of her head. This movie would have been far less painful with at least one of the three hours lopped off.
Getting back to the context of the film, let’s talk about Scorsese’s other films. As a fan of most of his work, Goodfellas and Casino immediately come to mind as much more effective uses of almost 3 hours of running time(I have seen Casino about 15 times). So, I’m definitely biased to give Scorsese the benefit of the doubt via the Halo effect(see youarenotsosmart.com). This makes this movie all the more staggering in its disappointment. There is a scene in “The Wolf of Wall Street” where things take a turn for the surreal. Out of nowhere, Jordan and Donnie Azoff(Jonah Hill) encounter rogue waves on a Yacht in the Mediterranean while private jets randomly explode overhead. This would be the equivalent of DeNiro all of a sudden recruiting an actual velociraptor to do shakedowns at local pizza joints in Goodfellas. I was utterly perplexed, but let’s look at the bright side, at least it was a scene that had something new happen in it!
I must confess that I’m not a big fan of Wall St. culture in general. So, I found the movie to provoke a sinking feeling of depression and uncomfortable irritation more than anything. I can understand how a scene like the lemon quaaludes lambo debacle is amusing, but since most of the stuff in the movie is based in a reality that we all live in, I wasn’t able to howl with laughter. I go to movies for escape. I don’t go to be reminded that the world can be a really scary, shitty place.
Perhaps Scorsese’s point was not to glorify and glamorize this world, but instead to help expose the injustice and corruption of it all – through the vehicle of Jordan’s wild adventures inside an exclusive world where immoral behavior is rarely held accountable. If that was his thrust, he failed miserably on all counts. I did not see any of the crowd at this movie shaking their heads in frustration with the white-collar atrocities of the 1%. On the other hand, if that wasn’t Marty’s objective, then I’m not sure why anyone would want to make a movie promoting being a materialistic, self-absorbed assclown. Either way, and in any context you want to look at it, it was a terrible movie that I would only recommend to people who can relate to Jordan Belfort.
Overall Rating – 1.4/10