Oscar Review: THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
by Witney Seibold on February 5, 2014
Witney Seibold’s run through the Best Picture nominees arrives here at what he terms the “best film of the Best Picture nominees that doesn’t stand a chance at winning”….
I wish Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street had a fighting chance this year, but it’s really not at the top of anyone’s lists. It’s not a front-runner by any stretch, and, really, that’s a damn shame. The Wolf of Wall Street, the true story of a real-life Wall Street bourgeoisie brat, is an energetically depraved sex-and-drugs orgy of American excess that, at a full three hours, manages to stay compelling and funny throughout. Scorsese continues to prove his mastership of the filmic crafts, but while depicting a gleeful laundry list of extreme human vice: public masturbation, anal drug consumption, flagrant public sexual activity, mountains of cocaine, and a general amoral milieu of hedonistic ultra-wealth that is, at the end of the day, kind of what the American Dream is all about.
Leonardo DiCaprio, now having made five features with Scorsese, gives one of his best performances as the fecklessly prodigal Jordan Belfort, an early-’90s stockbroker whose open disregard of the law and of common human decency only spelled Wall Street success. By dallying around a few legal curves, and bilking hundreds of off-screen blue-collar workers, Belfort managed to build one of the biggest Wall Street empires of his generation, proceeding to live life as if it were one extended party full of a bottomless pit of hookers and blow. He takes just about every drug he can. What made Belfort so casually depraved? A single speech by a mentor (Matthew McConaughey) who explains very simply that trading stocks is not meant to help the client. “If you can both make money, that’s better, right?” Jordan asks innocently. The simple answer: “No!”
The Wolf of Wall Street is, on its surface level, a bullet-fast dark comedy of such enthusiasm and mock poise, that it’s difficult to resist. You would think that three hours of constant manic, coke-fueled bacchanalia would wear thin after a while, but somehow Scorsese turns this pitch dark slapstick flick into a subtle – and actually very damning – comment on the economy. If the American Dream is all about acquiring wealth and becoming as rich as possible, doesn’t that Dream then logically extend to illegal behavior as well? Isn’t the ultimate allure of extreme wealth the eventual collapse of all rules, laws, and decency, offering you a freedom of pleasure unheard of in the real world, down here with the 99.9%? The Wolf of Wall Street is one of the funniest films I’ve seen with such a dark message.
Because the film is so joyous and energetic, some critics have taken to accusing Scorsese of failing to provide a moral for the story; some say Scorsese advocates the antisocial behavior on display. In response: 1) Only mad psychotics would advocate such behavior; and 2) by not punishing Jordan Belfort on screen, Scorsese is making a dark comment on the sad state of the American economic system. The richest of the rich, he suggests, even when they’re caught for their malfeasance, typically do not serve heavy jail time, never learn any lessons, and are free to continue to amass wealth that they’ll never use for anything constructive, unless you consider hoovering cocaine, smashing Lamborghini sports cars, and boinking prostitutes in front of your friends to be constructive.
Because of its hard edge (I’m surprised the film isn’t rated NC-17), The Wolf of Wall Street will likely be entirely ignored by the Academy come Oscar night. Pity, really. At least we have another strong entry in the canon of a master filmmaker who continues to make masterpieces.
Odds to win: 25:1