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The Wolf of Wall Street

and see
The Wolf of Wall Street, if
only because it’s directed by the great Martin Scorsese.  But don’t go expecting it to be fun. 

is fun in parts.  But the rest is the kind of fun we’re not
supposed to enjoy, because it involves characters who are immoral, vulgar and disgusting,
our early chuckles over the sheer effrontery and puerile excesses of such
people start to dry up.  An hour into the
film, after Scorsese has taken us on a frenetic guided tour of office orgies
and beach parties, of public sex and bedroom sex and endless popping of
Quaaludes and snorting of cocaine, scenes in which ‘fuck’ and ‘cunt’ and ‘cocksucker’
strangle just about every line of dialogue at birth, it all becomes rather
tiresome.  The characters go from
fascinating to boring in a hurry. 

still Scorsese doesn’t let up.  This is all
so fucking wild and extravagant and over the top, he seems to be telling us –
and keeps telling us in scene after orgiastic scene – that he can’t let up, presumably
afraid we might be bored.

another hour, I found myself thinking:  Okay
Mr. Scorsese, we’ve got the message. 

what is the message? 

that Wall Street is the cesspit of greed and cynicism, a moral wasteland
populated by swindlers and scumbags that we always believed it to be.  In that case Marty hasn’t been telling us
anything new.  Nor is he going to.  The rest of the film is just more of the
same, and by then the novelty has worn off. 
After nearly three hours of this, I was squirming in my seat and
checking my watch, not because I was embarrassed by what was happening up on
the screen but because my backside was being rendered as numb as my brain had

will probably explain that you can’t depict such outrageous behaviour as that
of the scumbags who populate the story without stretching the boundaries of
taste in the telling.  That’s fair
enough, I suppose.  But in doing so he
flirts with the danger that the film itself will become that which it seeks to
expose and ridicule. 

people I’ve talked to don’t intend to see The
Wolf of Wall Street
because it’s by Scorsese, or because it’s an expose of
financial corruption and moral degeneration, but simply because they’ve read
reports that it has more naked women and more sex scenes and more swear words
than can be counted.  Scorsese is
inviting prurience.

film is based on a true story, which, from a quick glance at Wikipedia, I’ve
deduced sticks pretty close to the facts. 
The real-life anti-hero is a rascal named Jordan Belfort, who some time
in the mid-1980s took a junior position with a brokerage firm called L.F.
Rothschild, and then, after the company went bust, moved down market to a Long Island ‘boiler room’ operation where pathetic,
pizza-chomping telephone salesmen sold worthless penny stocks to gullible
blue-collar investors. 

operation was quickly transformed, through the sheer magnetism of his
personality, into a superficially more respectable version of itself which he
called Stratton Oakmont.  Belfort coached the slobs
who worked there into polished facsimiles of the brokers he’d seen working at
prestigious Wall Street houses.  They
make oodles of money for themselves, and even more for Belfort, and as a result proffered undying
gratitude to their leader by elevating him into a financial legend of their own
imagination, and his.

Feds were soon on to the scam, and Belfort,
facing seriously hard time in jail, ‘ratted’ them out.

di Caprio plays Belfort
with enormous energy.  He joyously cajoles
the reluctant clients into coughing up their hard-earned savings, and then, in
evangelical speeches worthy of Elmer Gantry on speed, turns the trading-room
into a revival meeting filled with wild-eyed converts, and urges them to follow
his example.  They are reduced to delirium,
weeping with happiness.

never been entirely convinced by di Caprio’s acting, and I’m not sure I’m blown
away by this performance either, as much as he puts into it.   The
character doesn’t quite seem organic enough. 
He doesn’t come across as scarily, creepily authentic as the characters
Scorsese created for Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesce and Ray Liotta in Goodfellas.  

didn’t hate The Wolf of Wall Street.  But coming out of the cinema I realized that I
hadn’t much liked it. 

I especially didn’t like the final scene, in which Patrick Denham, the FBI
agent who has brought Belfort
down (believably played by Kyle Chandler) is shown sitting on a subway train.  He’s on his way to some presumably modest row
house in Brooklyn, ruminating on the fact that he’s turned down a bribe from Belfort that would have
made him rich beyond his imagining.  Now
he sits there, in his cheap suit, staring ruefully at his downtrodden fellow
passengers, presumably musing on what might have been.

is Scorsese trying to tell us here?  That
Denham should have succumbed to Belfort’s
charm and joined forces with the devil? 
If so, it’s a cheap shot that demeans the film’s one character that
wouldn’t have been interesting enough to contribute to Scorsese’s orgiastic
spectacle.  Surely not?  But if not, what does it mean?   


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