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
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Very well argued review.
The length didn’t bother me, and I never really felt this was repetitive, but I understand your point all the same.
Cheers James. I think the length was not an issue for a whole lot of people. Oftentimes I will watch 3 hour films and they will fly by. Unfortunately this just wasn’t one of them for me.
Great review – I’m really looking forward to seeing this one. I’m not much of a Scorsese fan either but it sounds intriguing. By the way, I’ve always meant to say, love your ratings system. 🙂
Thanks for commenting Anna and for the props on the rating system. I loved your review of The Wolf of Wall Street that you popped up since commenting as well.
Awesome review Tim! I see what you are saying but I must say that I LOVED this film and thought it was fantastic. The run time did not even bother me, it all came together incredibly well and DiCaprio gave a simply phenomenal performance as the reprehensible Belfort.
Cheers for commenting Zoe. Yep, this has gotten a lot of love from plenty of people. There was a whole lot of it I enjoyed too, which perhaps didn’t come through as well as I had hoped. Totally agree on Leo, I thought he did some excellent work.
Great review Tim. I thoroughly enjoyed this one but you’re right to point out flaws. It is certainly overlong but I also thought the time flew past. Not Scorsese’s best but definitely one of his funniest.
Thanks for commenting Mark. Always appreciate your opinions. There were some really great comedy moments for sure, and I loved a lot of what the film was saying too. Just didn’t love some of how it was said I guess.
Great review, I’ll be seeing this later today, will be able to make my own mind up. Can’t wait!
Cheers mate. Really enjoyed your review of the film.
Thanks mate 🙂
Great review. I thoroughly agree.
Cheers Fernando. I really liked your review too (and not just because you agree with me).
Top stuff man! Seeing this tonight and absolutely cannot wait! Just looks like a blast!
Cheers for commenting mate. What did you think (couldn’t spot a review on your site)?
I haven’t actually reviewed it yet, hoping to get one up in the next couple of days. I loved it though, it was so much fun! A tad in the long side but I was never bored.
Good review. While it definitely is a long one, I have to say that I enjoyed almost every minute of it and never lost my interest. Could have been a bit shorter, but so be it.
Cheers for commenting. That’s fair enough. There are plenty of films that others feel are overlong but don’t bother me at all.
Love your theme! As for your review, it was very well written. And my input is simply to tell you that we see eye to eye. Wolf of Wall Street was awesome in the first hour, and fantastic in the second, but why…why did it need a third? It could have been cut down so much. Not going to say I got bored, or lost interest, but I did feel it was a lot to handle in one sitting.
Also, you know when you had one too many beers? And you really need to go to the washroom, but the washrooms at the bar are full? Well, imagine being in a theater, drank a lot of water and coffee, yet do not want to miss any of the movie so forced to hold it. That happened. It was unpleasant.
First up cheers for commenting. Hopefully will see a bit of you around here.
Absolutely agree. At the one hour mark I was so invested in what was going on and what Scorsese was trying to say. But by the time the third hour came around, I was just really restless and impatient to get the film finished.
And yep, I know exactly what you mean on the bathroom thing. I think I managed to sit through this one. But I often have to get up and go in the middle of the film. Which is even more of a bummer, because often I go to the cinema by myself so have no one to ask what I missed.
No problem! I should be!
Exactly, I just wanted it to end by that point. It is awful sitting in theater seats for three hours, mostly when the film does not even need to be that long. Why doesn’t everywhere have couches in theaters like Malaysia? North America needs an upgrade.
I only gave up once in recent memory, during the Hunger Games, but did not end up missing much, and had someone to fill me in.