I’ve not alway got on with Martin Scorsese. I think the first of his films I saw was Cape Fear which to this day is one of the worst movies I have ever seen. It is entirely filled with unlikable people and the bad guy is harder to kill than Wile Coyote. Preposterous trash!
Then I saw The Age of Innocence which I also hated with a rare passion. Dull people, doing dull things in dull high society New York. Pretentious trash!
Still everyone told me he was a genius director so I searched out and watched Taxi Driver. I didn’t like it, miserable film. The King of Comedy wasn’t much fun either.
Things changed a little around ’94 when, despite my protestations, I sat and watched The Color of Money. To my surprise I enjoyed it. Shortly after this I discovered the true gem in the director’s back catalogue, Goodfellas, which is clearly brilliant. With these two films in mind I keenly went off for my first slice of Scorsese at the cinema. It was Casino and I didn’t like it.
Then I had a total turn around on the subject because I absolutely loved Gangs of New York. Then I loved The Aviator and The Departed and Shutter Island. I didn’t love Hugo but I did really really liked it (it’s not you Hugo, it’s me). Of course a common factor in most of these recent films is Leonardo DiCaprio but, great as he is, to lay too much credit at his door is to take away from Scorsese who clearly, after a decade of me saying he didn’t impress me, was suddenly and consistently able to really impress me.
Now then, we come to The Wolf of Wall Street and do you know what?
I didn’t really like it.
It certainly isn’t a bad film but like Taxi Driver and Casino, while I recognise the brilliance, I just didn’t enjoy it.
There are clearly some good things about this film. Leonardo DiCaprio is truly excellent and on this occasion I don’t think the guy can be given enough credit. He emerged as one of the best actors of his generation some time ago and has given too many great performances to mention here. All of his films with Scorsese are highlights as are Catch Me If You Can, Revolutionary Road and Inception. In this new film you can see evidence of a brilliant actor who totally trusts his director. It is a very brave, no holes barred showing that has DiCaprio doing grandstanding speeches, extreme physical ‘comedy'(I shall come back to this later), anger, despair and lots and lots of sex scenes. There is also a lot of talking direct to camera that somehow blends well with all realism of the rest of the film.
There is a large cast around DiCaprio, including Jonah Hill, Jean Dujardin, John Favreau and Joanna Lumley, and they all support the film well. There are four other people though who deserve particular recognition, starting with a certain Mr. Rob Reiner.
As a director Reiner’s contribution to cinema cannot be over stated. This is the man who gave the world When Harry Met Sally and The Princess Bride and just for those two films alone he should be considered one of the great comedy film makers alongside Billy Wilder and Woody Allen. His work in front of the camera has been more forgettable though, mostly consisting of small friend or doctor roles in things like Sleepless in Seattle, Bullets Over Broadway and The First Wives Club. Here he puts in a very memorable turn as the protagonist’s Dad, a man with amusing anger management issues.
The next special mention goes to Matthew McConaughey. You’ve got to love this guy. He started out in pretty good but pretty standard fare like A Time to Kill and Contact before his good looks and laid back charm pushed him into rom coms. If you look through his CV though you will see that he has always looked to take interesting, albeit sometimes small, roles in quality films. This could be both his most interesting and smallest part yet, turning up briefly at the start to give the main character his motivation for everything that follows. In that respect he is like Ellie in Up, with absolutely none of the sweetness but equally crazy hair. He shows once again why he is becoming one of the best character actors currently on the Hollywood roster. It won’t be for this film but don’t be surprised to see him take the Oscar this year.
Then we have Margot Robbie. When she is introduced, camera zoomed in on her thonged derrière, it looks like she is there as one dimensional eye candy but while there is plenty of T & A (I shall come back to this later) she gives her role as the trophy wife some depth. She certainly plays against DiCaprio more convincingly than Kate Winslet did first time round (although not second).
Finally I’d like to talk about Kyle Chandler who, as the FBI agent on our ‘hero’s’ (I shall come back to this later) back, is underplaying things more than anyone else. It isn’t a showy part but it works really well. There is a scene between the two men on a yacht that is almost Tarantinoesque in the way they banter around one another, waiting to see which of them will show their true colours first. It is my favourite part of the whole film.
So lots to recommend it, what is the problem?
The reason I didn’t really enjoy The Wolf of Wall Street is that despite there being a main cast of about twenty people they don’t have a single redeeming feature between them. DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfont, a real guy, is the most odious human being I have seen on screen since Ralph Fiennes’ turn in Schindler’s List. I need to be able to sympathise with characters in films to happily follow their journey and this time I couldn’t. Three hours was a long long time to spend in the lives of these unimaginably self centred people.
Then there is the drug taking and sex. I don’t think the film glorifies this lifestyle as some people have accused it of doing, these guys are pathetic, but the camera does aggrandise the debauchery. There is quite a lot of full frontal female nudity and while this is in the service of the story it probably doesn’t need to be quite so prolific. There is a line and in the case of The Wolf of Wall Street they cross it and then they shave it off. It probably won’t come as any great surprise that there are many more naked women than naked men here which makes the girls seem a little more objectified. Certainly if you compare it to something like Ang Lee’s Lust Caution there is less graphic sex and nudity but this movie feels more salacious and pervy.
It is clear that the film will split people and I am happy with that. There is nothing wrong with a marmite movie. I adored Black Swan but am happy to accept others may not (whereas anyone who doesn’t love Inception is clearly an idiot). I didn’t like The Wolf of Wall Street but I can see why people do. Certainly there was one scene, where a hideously overdosed Leo tries to get into his car, writhing around like a paralytic Basil Fawlty, that had large sections of the screen I was in in hysterical laughter. I just found it very uncomfortable. Elsewhere there is a conversation about the rights of people with dwarfism which is designed to shock and had some of my fellow viewers in stitches. Once again I just thought it was unpleasant and this is from someone who finds Sarah Silverman funny.
No doubt the tone of the film is designed to reflect the attitudes of the people in it but I just didn’t like them or their values. I do like the fact that it is getting Oscar attention though as it was clearly clearly not made with that in mind.
The ISWYS Test Rating:
1. Is there a female lead?
2. If that character was your sister would you respect her?
3. If your sister did those things would you proudly tell all your friends about it?
I don’t think an appreciation of the film will depend on your own moral viewpoint but scoring it on my ISWYS test does. It is one hell of a film for me to start this off with. I’m going to give it a 2. The female lead is not afraid to use her sexuality as a tool and she happily turns a blind eye to her husbands lawlessness but she is strong and independent and she doesn’t let people walk over her. She’s a lot like Blue Jasmine but without the self pity.
Is this one for the kids?
Put it this way, there is plenty here for teenage boys to enjoy.