The Wolf of Wall Street Has Everything Money Can Buy -- But Still Comes Up Empty

<I>The Wolf of Wall Street</I> Has Everything Money Can Buy -- But Still Comes Up Empty
Mary Cybulski - © 2013 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
DiCaprio as crooked high-flier Jordan Belfort.

Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street is the kind of movie directors make when they wield money, power, and a not inconsiderable degree of arrogance. Sprawling and extravagant, it revels in all manner of excess, including sexual debauchery, hearty abuse of liquor and quaaludes, even dwarf-tossing. Its antihero, the crooked high-flier Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), has a Dunhill wallet where his heart should be, and he just can't stop flinging bills out of it. The movie around him guns for grandeur in the same way: There are hints of greatness, one or two artfully constructed scenes that remind you why you look forward to new Scorsese films in the first place. But as a highly detailed portrait of true-life corruption and bad behavior in the financial sector, Wolf is pushy and hollow, too much of a bad thing, like a three-hour cold call from the boiler room that leaves you wondering, "What have I just been sold?"

Scorsese doesn't pass judgment on his characters, but he can't get a fix on the tone.

It's a work of bullying artistry, but at least it looks really expensive. So does DiCaprio's Jordan, with his wardrobe of bespoke suits and that Crest Whitestrips smile. Jordan is the founder of a '90s-era investment firm with a pseudo-classy name, Stratton Oakmont. His cronies, among them Jonah Hill's perpetually dazed-looking Donnie Azoff, start out knowing diddly-squat about finance. Before long, they're bending the rules and bilking ordinary folk out of millions, the better to finance mansions, yachts, and trophy wives — along with their hookers and drug habits. (The movie was adapted by Terence Winter from Belfort's 2007 memoir of the same name.)

Scorsese halfheartedly follows a rags-to-riches-to-rags arc, though mostly he fixates on riches. Some of the early moments are promising: One of the funniest, most casual sections features Matthew McConaughey as one of Jordan's early mentors, earnestly advising the callow newcomer over a multi-martini lunch that in order to be a world beater, he'll need to start masturbating more. Scorsese doesn't pass judgment on his characters, which at first seems like a plus. But he can't get a fix on the tone; the movie has the intentionally sour spirit of Goodfellas, but none of its grim humor.

Jonah Hill (left) as perpetually dazed-looking Donnie Azoff.
Mary Cybulski - © 2013 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
Jonah Hill (left) as perpetually dazed-looking Donnie Azoff.
Mary Cybulski - © 2013 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

Details

The Wolf of Wall Street
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Terence Winter. Based on the book by Jordan Belfort.
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Jon Bernthal, and Jean Dujardin.
Paramount Pictures
thewolfofwallstreet.com
Opens December 25



Subscribe to the Voice Film Club podcast

Related Stories

More About

Many of the bits are probably intended to be over-the-top funny and horrifying: In one sequence, a female Stratton Oakmont employee volunteers to have her head shaved in front of the staff in return for a hefty check, which, Jordan announces, she's going to use for breast implants. She submits cheerfully to the electric shaver, but we feel humiliated for her as locks of her lustrous hair fall to the floor. She's playing the boys' game, tossing her own currency into the pot, but it's all just a big guffaw for them.

One hour of that boorishness would be more than enough; by the end of the second, you might be wondering if anyone, including Scorsese, is ever going to call these guys on their self-absorbed idiocy. What, exactly, does he think of these people? His portrayal has no sharpness, no skepticism. Long after we've gotten the picture, Scorsese and cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto are still presenting each new, depraved revelation as if it were an infant water-nymph on a lily pad, a thing of wonder they'd never seen before. If you've never heard stories about the boorishness of Wall Street types, you'll be incredibly shocked by The Wolf of Wall Street. That man snorted coke out of a hooker's butt!

Jordan does eventually fall. His second wife, a pneumatic princess he calls the Duchess (Margot Robbie), finally sees what a loser he is as a man, if not a pocketbook; the supercilious French dude (Jean Dujardin, with his crocodile smile) who's helping him hide his money in Switzerland pulls a fast one on him; and a wily FBI agent — played by the appealing Kyle Chandler, who's starting to resemble a young Robert Forster, which is miraculous — starts sniffing at his all-too-obvious trail. (In real life, Belfort was convicted of money laundering and securities fraud and spent 22 months in jail. He now makes a living as a motivational speaker.)

But if there's nothing pleasurable or revelatory in watching these guys act like cavemen who have just discovered women, drugs, and cash, it's even less fun to see them get caught. DiCaprio's Jordan is manic in a studied way; he's always leaping onto desks or writhing on floors. He's not wholly dislikable — his brashness has a bright sheen to it, like artificial solar power — but DiCaprio's turn might be more effective if he hadn't just played Jay Gatsby, in a much better performance, earlier this year. Both Gatsby and Jordan are strivers and fakers, but Gatsby aspires to elegance, not excess, and even then his greatest hope is that it can buy him love. As DiCaprio played him, he had the touching austerity of a lone silver cuff link, an incomplete man who appears to have everything.

There's nothing as complicated or as appealing in The Wolf of Wall Street, and nothing tragic, not even tragically funny. Scorsese is one of the few great old-guard filmmakers with the clout to make movies on this scale, and this picture — dreary, self-evident, too repetitive to be much fun even as satire — is what he comes up with? Some have already favorably compared this with Brian De Palma's Scarface, in that it invites us to revel in its characters' amorality from a safe distance, and at epic length. But that's a slippery, surface-level comparison. Scarface is violent as hell, and operatically blunt, but, oddly enough, it's not an aggressive picture. It rolls forward in crazy, melodramatic waves, without pushing its points about the horrors human beings are willing to commit in the name of capitalism. It doesn't have to, when there's a chain saw to do the talking. Scorsese, on the other hand, belabors every angle of this lukewarm morality tale. It's self-conscious and devoid of passion, and there's no radiant star at its center. Who would choose DiCaprio's depraved, squeaky Jordan Belfort over Al Pacino's twisted, basso profundo Tony Montana? The Wolf of Wall Street has everything money can buy, and still, it comes up empty.

 
My Voice Nation Help
48 comments
alswindo
alswindo

Stephanie, Once again you took the words right out o my mouth. I love Scorsese's Deniro  era, but so far his collaborations with his new boy (DiCaprio)-(5 films and counting)- haven't yielded anything for me memorable enough to add to my DVD collection. Still I will await tentatively that one day the magic will return...Perhaps the next film. All I can say for "Wolf" is that all the characters seem to be their own biggest fans. No charm..

jcambria02
jcambria02

The Voice needs to bring back J Hoberman.

pbullock
pbullock

Martin Scorsese needs therapy. Let me see, main character, scumbag, supporting main character, scumbag, assistant to the debauched main character scumbag, putrid scumbag. Entire cast, scumbags. Evil, empty, mono-moronic scumbags. I get it... it's a movie about scumbags. We certainly need all the scumbagery we can choke on. In that, Scorsese delivers.

Previous movies: Gangs of scumbags, Mean Streets of scumbags, Departed scumbags. I'm sensing a theme. Hmmm, Scorsese likes telling stories about scumbags. Doesn't exactly scream range, does it. Pity is, Scorsese has talent. Sure would like to see him venture down paths unknown for a change. 

Marissa
Marissa

My question is — is this movie doing anything new? At this point, “white Wall Street conmen experience meteoric rise and disgraceful plummet, as accompanied by prostitutes and drugs; cause us to question our own social values” isn’t new ground to tread. In a year where we had some pretty cool and unusual things happening in mainstream cinema (an animated “princess” movie where the most important relationship was between two sisters, a space thriller whose face was a middle-aged woman, a high-grossing action movie starring a young woman, a sci-fi blockbuster where 2/3 leads were NOT white men, a female buddy-cop movie), this just seems….tired. And honestly, nothing in this review is making me think the movie is going to ask any questions that haven’t been asked a million times, in similar explorations. Pass, sorry.

Ann McDermott
Ann McDermott

I was planning to see this movie, until I read your previously posted article from the daughter of "the Wolf". Given I've worked in and around the securities industry for most of my working life I was curious but now, no absolutely not. Don't need to be reminded about the narcissism and drug abuse not to mentioned the abuse of women.

d.harpy
d.harpy

This is a repetitious, boring movie that promotes racism, sexism, & soul-destroying greed. 

Ted Cantu
Ted Cantu

comes up "EMPTY" LOL... another worthless article by The Voice written by the angry

Valerie Flanagan
Valerie Flanagan

Read this review. Seldom do I ignore the voice of... The VOICE, but it's Scorsese right?!! Only director that from my New York native standpoint, I feel obligated to check out no sooner than well; release date. Well, waited on this one n jus got back. Article was spot-on. A comparison to DePalma's classic film Scarface..., I think not. Scorsese the great, you have fallen off my brother with this infantile piece of work. Garbage. Expectation is always above the bar from this director, I'm the 1st to say, so sad moment in the history of film. Skip it- we've all seen this mickey mouse "entertainment" in its many forms a hundred times over.

Nancy Knight Mayes
Nancy Knight Mayes

I HATED this movie........completely and utterly depraved!! Might as well, and probably should be, classified at porn!

d.harpy
d.harpy

This movie was a disappointment. It revels in the excesses of these characters with virtually no criticism. It both reflects and promotes the misogyny that pervades our culture while repressing any presentation of racism. The movie is screamingly repetitive & boring with only intermittent funny moments. 

Sandra Davis
Sandra Davis

Reading it in a book is sometimes better than a movie.

Ron De Niro
Ron De Niro

Money, sadly does not buy class, nor dignity.

Barry Polis
Barry Polis

The Voice Film Critic is horse ... the hind part !!!

gob1854
gob1854

Steph, 



 I know you are trying you hardest to hold onto the "edginess" that is quickly fleeting you. You're old, it's cool just accept it. Stop trying to pretend you like things you don't based on age. Someone who gives The Canyons a thumbs up, but shies away from the masterpiece that is 12 years a slave deserves more than 100 lashes. You are not cool, young, hip or in-tune with what constitutes a good movie. Your taste in cinema is comparable to individuals who claim  Taco Bell is the ce qui signifie bon repas. You're a fraud and surprisingly the oldest hipster I have ever encountered. Please continue adopting cats and knitting or whatever it is that someone your age does. Wolf of Wall Street owned it and that's all I need to say. Get another job and please hang yourself in your closet before you write another review. 



Thanks, 

Dennis 

HugMySoul
HugMySoul

@szacharek Your review sums up what happened to Scorsese in general. He's dead creatively. The comments sum up what happened to audiences.;)

lisa-runnels
lisa-runnels

CRITICS SMITICS----WHO GIVES A FLYING F**K SHIT WHAT ANY OF THESE CRITICS SAY ? WE WANT TO SEE THIS FILM AND ARE GOING TO-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------TO SPICE THINGS UP FOR THE HOLIDAYS---------------------------------------

JoeD
JoeD

@d.harpy Would it really matter if it was critical of them or their lifestyle? NO. Every average schmuck would love to live like that and that's what the last shot of the film communicates perfectly. So, it's not PC? Big deal! America is sick of PC. 

JoeD
JoeD

Yeah, but it buys ferrari's, yacht's, and plenty of blondes which is almost as good. 

gob1854
gob1854

I see what you did there. You get it, this guy gets it. She's an ass. 

gob1854
gob1854

As did I. This bitch just has to go against the flow, you know to be cool.

gob1854
gob1854

@jicastillo @szacharek I guess if I hated the African American plight as much as you I would hate it as well. Keep thinking it was all as glamorous as Gone with the wind. 

gob1854
gob1854

@HugMySoul @szacharek Go back to watching Transformers or The Avengers man. 

gob1854
gob1854

@HugMySoul @szacharek He's dead in general? Her review sums up that an honest portrayal of a polarizing figure that shouldn't be told because it might be misogynistic, or over the top. But let's all let The Canyons be lauded as a great film with that robot Lohan and shaky plot at best. Right. 

gob1854
gob1854

@racheldodes @szacharek In GB we use shy's instead of shies. Look it up.

gob1854
gob1854

@LaissezFlair @szacharek Almost as much as you like sarcasm and cock????

gob1854
gob1854

@Sir.Farty.Fartsalot She is just mad that due to her age she didn't get it. Must suck when you fail at being edgy. Apparently hating great movies is the new "it"thing. She is jumping on the train instead of in-front of it. 

littlewitch
littlewitch

@JoeD@d.harpyThe issue I have with the movie is that it fails to tell a story.  The story of the victims, is left out , you never see even one life effected by these guys.  That leaves us with a three hour infomercial for the merits of ripping off the weak, the unsophisticated and the inexperienced ...or as you call them Average Smucks.  If the filmmaker wants to evade taking a moral or ethical position on the actions of the main characters than at least he/she must tell the entire story, so the audience can decide for itself.   By leaving out the "victims" story, we the audience are deprived of deciding for ourselves what we think of Belfort and his crew. Simply justifying their unspeakable exploitation of the working class by saying the victims(average smucks to you) would trade places with these guys in a minute is adding even more slander against everyday American middle class people, most of whom would never dream of acting so ruthlessly and selfishly, they are too busy keeping their families going and putting up money for college etc.  That they dare to take a risk and trust these creeps is a tragedy but it does not justify the actions of bottom-feeding drug addled losers like Jordan Belfort..This could have been a cautionary tale,not toavoid being Belfort, rather to know how to identify people like Belfort and never ever trust them let alone envy them.  Unfortunately the movie carrieson for 3 hours and basically ends up nowhere.  Morale bereft, it turns the camera around on the audience andlike you, blames US because Scorcese at all could not take a stand. UGH  what a way to grow old

d.harpy
d.harpy

@JoeD @d.harpy First of all, movie art expresses a political point of view whether it's direct or implied; "Wolf of Wall Street" supports and promotes racism, sexism & greed. I assume that you're one of those average schmucks that wants to live like the misogynist macho idiots portrayed in the movie since you seem to disapprove of criticism of these things. I guess you think that anyone expressing antagonism towards racism, sexism & soul-destroying greed are PC. And that's somehow bad. You're obviously stuck in the 1950s.

littlewitch
littlewitch

@JoeDThats what people without dignity or"class" always think.

HugMySoul
HugMySoul

@gob1854 @szacharek  I'd rather watch Transformers than read crass, misogynistic juvenile ad personam crap from an anonymous bully. Heck, I'd even rewatch "The Last Temptation of Christ".

littlewitch
littlewitch

@gob1854@szacharekHow can this be an "honest" portrayal of a polarizing figure if the entire story is not told.  Repetitive lt showing the excesses and neglecting to show the lives affected by these losers actually presents a very skewed view of "what happened".  To truly know what Belfort did, we need to see the consequences of his actions, then we can decide for ourselves about Mr. Charm.  Guess what most Americans do not need money so he can snort coke out of a womans ass, they would just like to have money to eat better food, have a decent vehicle and send there children to decent schools. 

jcambria02
jcambria02

@d.harpy @JoeD The film doesn't promote racism, sexism and greed. I don't think it's a perfect movie and I have my issues with it, but it rubs a viewer's face in one facet of the American dream (amoral larcenous division) until you recoil. I do think the "victims" are there but Scorsese sees them as willing to be fleeced because they want the same excess Jordan has.  You can disagree with that, and it's certainly not fair to the real-life victims, but since when is this director interested in "real life" or faithful depictions of documented history? He's doing a Bosch painting on the subject of greed, and, yes, it's overkill and meant to be (and, yes, paintings can sometimes seem two-dimensional). And, yes, it seems to cross the line from depicting to celebrating at points, the operative word being "seems". Which means (I think) we're meant to chew over this for ourselves and with each other, much as you and I are doing now.

I don't think it's anywhere near Scorsese's best work but I do think it's a challenge to the viewer, flaws and all. Especially for younger moviegoers who might assume Scorsese is, in fact, celebrating Jordan's lifestyle until the scene where he punches his wife. That shut the college kids in the row behind me up quick

 

Now Showing

Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

Box Office Report

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!

Loading...