The most obvious perplexity about Martin Scorsese’s three-hour epic comedy about self-described ’80s Wall Street “degenerate” Jordan Belfort (on whose book it’s based) is this: Why on earth would anyone open it within just a few days of 2013’s truly great cinematic historical sleazefest, David O. Russell’s “American Hustle,” a slightly similar but much better film in every way?
It’s very simple really. The Christmas openings are Hollywood’s traditional trolling place to drop Oscarbait into the water and check out the nibbles.
And it seems to many – me included – that Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance as Belfort is his wildest and most impressive onscreen ever (please remember he’s been intermittently impressive onscreen since he was a teenager). Unfortunately, his fellow actors didn’t concur. They didn’t even think enough of it to nominate him for a SAG award but please believe me, he is often the wild and crazy high-energy core of a movie that tries to survive on high-energy alone.
They didn’t nominate Scorsese’s whole ensemble either and it was reasonable to assume they might have.
Until, that is, you see the film and realize it’s at least a half-hour too long. Personally, I could have done without at least 45 minutes of it. Three hours is a long time to ask us to sit in a theater laughing at the money, drug and sex fueled high jinks of fellows who think the word “degenerate” is an encomium.
Despite “The Wolf of Wall Street” as an obvious seasonal also-ran in the sleaze-stakes to Russell’s free-form sleazefest fantasia about the Abscam Tapes – one of the great films of 2013 –, it made sense to launch Scorsese’s huge lesser film into theaters on Christmas Day in hopes of 2013 award nomination recognition. We’re talking about Scorsese here, a man who finally ended a career-long Oscar drought with the Best Picture Oscar for “The Departed.”
Even so, for all its uproariousness, it wasn’t as if discouraging words haven’t been out about “The Wolf of Wall Street’s” near-equal abilities to entertain and to enervate on a massive scale. Those Motion Picture Academy members in a position to receive “For Your Consideration” screener tapes have been hinting for a month or so that the holiday season was about to bring us a three-hour film by a legendary film-maker that makes many viewers want to bail out halfway through.
Now that I’ve seen it, I must confess I’m one of them. I’m glad I stuck with it, mind you, to the very end but I can’t say it was easy. It wasn’t. (I kept on repeating “Scorsese” to myself.)
But then causes for bafflement about “The Wolf of Wall Street” are many and various. To try to answer a few:
Q: For a film of so much nudity, kinky sex, foul language and orgiastic (literally) drug-taking, how on earth did “The Wolf of Wall Street” ever evade an NC-17 rating?
A: A very good question. Throughout 2013, the MPAA ratings system has been full of oddities and perplexities. I have a feeling, though, that the immensity of Scorsese’s reputation and the clout – and negotiating canniness – of its studio held sway at the end of the day. Consider the rating, though, about as hard an “R” rating as a movie can get.
Q: Haven’t we seen the subject of stock market peccadilloes before rather often since Oliver Stone introduced it to us with Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen in “Wall Street?”
A: Yes, and in smaller but better films too – “Margin Call,” the best of the lot, as well as “Arbitrage” and “Boiler Room.” What none of those films, though, do that “The Wolf of Wall Street” does is make such a comic case for ’80s decadence that you actually feel the criminal exultation of these bottom-feeders the way you felt it in Scorsese’s “GoodFellas.”
Belfort started out as a peddler of penny stocks who had nothing but contempt for those who bought them and graduated to a player called “The Wolf of Wall Street” by Forbes who offered IPOS for a popular line of fashionable shoes.
Q: How’s the rest of the cast?
A: Uniformly fine, from Jonah Hill to Rob Reiner as Belfort’s father, Margot Robbie as his sleek wife, Matthew McConaughey. It isn’t hard, though, to understand the SAGS overlooking a film of such fatiguing and often annoying excess.
The WOLF OF WALL STREET
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey, Jonah Hill, Jon Favreau
Director: Martin Scorsese
Running time: 180 minutes
Rating: R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language throughout.
The Lowdown: Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, from his rise as a wealthy stockbroker to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government.