It starts with a shot of Leonardo DiCaprio snorting cocaine out of a hooker’s anus. For anyone over the age of 20, subtitles meant to be read in Ray Liota’s voice flash across the screen, reading, “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.”
It never slows down.
The Wolf of Wall Street is the true story of noted New York Islanders fan Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio, who also produces), a stock broker who started a billion-dollar company that pumped and dumped stocks — basically, they acquire stock for worthless companies, then sell them to clients who don’t know any better for a profit. Though he was indicted in 1998, this is the same tactic that was made famous after the 2008 economic collapse. The script, written by Terence Winter, is adapted from memoirs he wrote in prison.
Director Martin Scorsese, who also produces, has used his own history as a filmmaker to equate Wall Street greed with the cocaine-running films of yesteryear. The Wolf of Wall Street is really a remake of Goodfellas. It’s Scarface for the 2010s. Whether or not that’s a good thing is up to the viewer.
The film brilliantly uses flavor narration and all kinds of montage sequences to tie its meanings together. Early in the film, Belmont equates money to drugs. Montages of many brokers learning and plying their craft gives the scheme a grand scale. Belmont and his minions pause for a scene to abuse dwarves in a heavy-handed display of what they really think of the little people. In a broad sense, the entire three hour experience is a thesis-worthy montage fetishizing gluttony.
It’s cut from the same cloth as traditional crime epics, and it has the same problems. The dirty secret about this kind of movie is it’s not perfect. It’s way too long. It dances with misogyny — all though The Wolf of Wall Street never holds sexism as something the viewer should aspire to and never out right says women are worthless, it features a lot of sexism from its main characters and a lot of women who are only there for sex. No one should idolize Belfort, but then again, no one should idolize Henry Hill. People will see his wealth and prosperity onscreen and idolize him, despite the obvious fact that he’s a terrible person.
These movies never do a good job of making clear that large-scale crime has large-scale consequences. In Scarface, for instance, we see Tony Montoya grow into a powerful drug lord but we rarely see the violence and destitution involved in drug smuggling. I still don’t know why the feds were after Michael Corleone. The Wolf of Wall Street is no different. Belfort is a real person who took real people’s life savings for nothing, and still owes hundreds of thousands of dollars to more than 1,500 victims as of last October. But all we see is all the sex he had.
The Wolf of Wall Street is cinema at its finest and a tour de force by DiCaprio, who is a keystone like no other. Sometimes grotesque, sometimes thoughtful and sometimes side-splittingly funny, the film is everything right and everything wrong with American moviemaking wrapped into a gigantic, topical package.
Joshua Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, journalism and film student at the University of North Texas and a senior staff writer for the NT Daily. Seriously, the Islanders in the mid-90′? The Mark Messier guarantee, and you pull for the Islanders? Really? For questions, rebuttals and further guidance about cinema, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. At this point, I’d like to remind you that you shouldn’t actually go to movies and form your own opinions. That’s what I’m here for. Be sure to come back here for reviews of Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones and various oscar-bait morsels as they come to Denton.