Before I launch headlong into my review of Martin Scorsese’s critically beloved and hedonistic new film The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), it is worthwhile giving some context. For many lovers of film, Scorsese is ‘their guy’. By that I mean pretty much whatever he turns out, they love. This is not a criticism of those people in the slightest. It just means that something about Scorsese’s filmmaking, storytelling and the stories he chooses to tell, consistently really connect with them. Malick and Herzog are two directors who I would say are ‘my guy’ in much the same way. Something about what they put out, just works for me. Scorsese, not so much. I don’t dislike him as a director and I like most of his films. But I rarely love them, and the only one of his films that I would consider an absolute all out classic for me personally is Taxi Driver (1976).
I think this trend continues with Scorsese’s latest film, because whilst I like it, I like it far less than most people seem to. And that is down to a single creative choice that the director makes – the length of the film. It runs to three hours, and is a film that in my view could have been at the very least an hour shorter. Not only that, I think if the film was heavily edited not only would it have been much more enjoyable, it would have been able to convey its critical points a lot better. The film is about showing how heinous the main character Jordan Belfort is (side note, anyone who thinks that the film endorses the actions of this character and his minions in the film is sorely, sorely mistaken), both on a professional and personal level. The issue for me was that it was these professional shortcomings and criminalities that were far more interesting and a far more important societal commentary than what Belfort chose to do in his personal time, but far less time is devoted to them. The personal side of the story – the raging parties, the drug fuelled rampages, the adulterous trysts with prostitutes – these were all an important part of the story. But the point was made with one example of each. We did not need to see three or four of them which meant in the end this focus on the personal ended up taking somewhere in the region of two thirds of the film. Realistically, the points that Scorsese was trying to make about Belfort’s utter despicability as a bloke could have been covered off on in 30 minutes. Instead they totally overshadow the much more interesting examination of Belfort’s life as a grubby stockbroker and what that says about us as a society.
So much of The Wolf of Wall Street is really great though, which makes its shortcomings all the more disappointing. For starters, whilst I would not call it a comedy, it is very funny at times. And it does a great job of skewering Belfort and the goals he has in life, namely to make himself absurdly, filthy rich by making others poorer. This is a man who not only believes that money makes you happier, he genuinely believes that the accrual of money makes you a better person. The scary thing is, and this is something the film does well to make clear, is that there really are people like that out there. Far too many of them. There are also people in this film who can masturbate whilst thinking of nothing but money. God I hope there are not people like that out there. The film is astute in this analysis, likewise the manner in which it undermines the misogynist and shallow life that Belfort and co use their massive profits to fund. So much of these good aspects and commentaries the film makes are achieved by Scorsese and the writers of the film doing something quite remarkable. They use characters that are nothing really more than caricatures, to make these quite nuanced points. If you have been slightly put off by claims that this film in some way glorifies misogyny and this lifestyle, don’t be. As I have already said but feel the need to repeat, for all the films flaws, this is not one of them. Depiction is not the same as endorsement and rarely has that been truer than here.
There is little doubt in my mind that you will find plenty to like in The Wolf of Wall Street. I certainly did. But having said that, you should be prepared to be in for the long haul. In my view, this would have been a seriously fantastic film if it was anywhere between an hour and an hour and a half shorter.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs