Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Movie Reviews: The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

More, more, more, more, more, more is never enough!

Director: Martin Scorsese

Writers: Terence Winter (screenplay), Jordan Belfort (book)

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio; Jonah Hill; Margot Robbie; Matthew McConaughey; Kyle Chandler; Rob Reiner; Jon Bernthal; Jon Favreau; Jean Dujardin; Joanna Lumley

Synopsis: The Wolf of Wall Street revels in its excess, having great fun while attempting (and possibly failing) to present a cautionary tale.

Leonardo DiCaprio brilliantly portrays the villainy and excesses of New York stockbroker Jordan Belfort, who turned to penny stocks and later Independent Public Offerings as a way of making millions by defrauding other investors.

The Wolf of Wall Street revels in its excesses. Hours are spent documenting Belfort’s descent from a family man into drunken, drugged, sex-fueled debauchery. And yet it’s a fun ride, one that I enjoyed though clearly not for everyone.

Early this year when The Great Gatsby came out, many awards pundits were predicting that this could be Leonardo DiCaprio’s year to finally win an Oscar – not for Gatsby but for The Wolf of Wall Street. But that was before 12 Years a Slave, Dallas Buyers Club, and other films took him from frontrunner status to he-might-also-get-nominated (he did, beating out Tom Hanks who was widely predicted to be nominated for Captain Phillips). I would love for Leo to finally win an Oscar. But I suspect this won’t be the year. 

Jonah Hill also earned a well-deserved Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. And Matthew McConaghey was on some critics’ short list of predicted nominees (though had he received a Supporting Actor nod, it should have be for Mud). But man, what a competitive year!

Some critics have complained that The Wolf of Wall Street glorifies Belfort’s debauchery. Others, including DiCaprio and Scorsese, have argued that the film is a cautionary tale, showing how Belfort’s greed and excess led to his downfall. I suspect the truth is somewhere in the middle. Many will likely be turned off by DiCaprio’s portrayal, hardly enticed to lead a similar life themselves. But one could argue that in the end, did Belfort really fall as far as he should have? And did he learn any lessons?

The real Belfort’s own recent comments suggest otherwise. He’s defending his actions, arguing that they only targeted wealthy people for the penny stock investments (most penny stock investors are decidedly not wealthy) and didn’t lose anyone’s entire life savings. But can he be sure? Does he really know that only wealthy people used his firm? I doubt it. Can he be sure that no one lost their entire life savings on his fraud? Unlikely. But more importantly, does it matter? Is it somehow okay to steal from people as long as you only target wealthy people and still leave them something? It’s still a crime, it’s still immoral, and decades later, the real Belfort doesn’t seem to understand that.

The Wolf of Wall Street will definitely make my Cosmo list in many categories. But I never thought I’d see the day when an Oscar powerhouse film was a clear frontrunner for Best Use of (Gratuitous?) Nudity. So gratuitous that some had to be cut from the film. Let’s hope they make the special features section of the DVD.

Rating: 4 stars

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