The Wolf of Wall Street was FB/BS’s most anticipated film of the second half of 2013. Scorsese is my favorite director and every one of his new releases is grounds for full-blown movie-nerd parties. I’ve been obsessed with his films ever since I’ve been obsessed with films (if you’re looking for a good book on film check out “Scorsese by Ebert,” a collection of Roger Ebert’s essays and reviews about the director). Scorsese has a penchant for long films playing out over decades and The Wolf fits perfectly into his collection. The movie comes in at 179 minutes, beating out Casino (178 min), The Aviator (169 min), Gangs of New York (166 min), The Last Temptation of Christ (164 min), and The Departed (151 min) (not counting the New York, New York re-release which runs at 163 min). It’s actually scary to realize how much time I’ve spent sunken into my over-sized living room chair watching Scorsese’s work. I don’t regret it. While home for the holidays I spent three hours on Christmas Day in the theater where I spent most of my high school weekends. The theater was sold out and full of families but within the first few scenes it was obvious that this is not a family movie. There is more nudity, long sex scenes, and profanity here than in any movie I have seen. I don’t say that lightly. I didn’t mind the content but several families with young children left the theater early on and I felt a little uncomfortable watching the sex play out while sitting next to a mom and her kid. Scorsese apparently had “no limits or censor of anything” during filming but eventually had to cut some scenes after the film was slapped with an NC-17 rating. The adult slanted nature of the film was warranted as Scorsese and crew set out to paint an honest picture of the excess in which stock brokers like Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Donny Azoff (Jonah Hill) wallowed in at the time. The result is a film that follows a familiar storyline with DiCaprio playing the rags-to-riches character who flies too high and gets burned. Although there are individually surprising moments, the overall arc of the film is relatively predictable as Belfort’s rise to the top and attempts to stay there have been played out before.
Walking into the theater, I had hoped the film would be the best movie of the year and win Scorsese and DiCaprio some deserved Oscars. Unfortunately, I don’t think it came close to hitting that mark. While it is well-made and interesting, it lacks an enticing plot at its core. This is unbelievably regrettable because the film is near excellent in almost all other categories. DiCaprio and Hill provide excellent performances and the supporting cast around them are hilarious, especially the initial group of brokers that Belfort brought to his company (Kenneth Choi was a personal favorite). The pacing of the movie is comfortable and it doesn’t feel rushed or overly slow even with the incredibly long run-time. The cinematography and camera play of the movie are obviously all well done and add to the movie’s feel and theme of excess. In the end, the movie is great but doesn’t lift itself to being the truly great film many had hoped to see.
My disappointment is probably a reflection of my opinion of Scorsese. If this movie was a director’s debut I would probably find myself fawning over the newcomer (although I’d probably eye roll more at the profanity and claim the new director was unduly calling attention to himself). Ultimately, I guess I can’t blame the film for being great if not amazing, and “one of the best” if not “the best” of the year. The movie has picked up several nominations but probably won’t make headlines the day after the Oscars.
Rating: 8/10. We came close to giving it an 9/10 but that would’ve been an unfair Scorsese bump. Jonah Hill was amazing, and his parts were more enjoyable than DiCaprio’s while the lead showed more range and dexterity. The nudity/profanity didn’t bother us but seemed unnecessary and over the top for the sake of over-the-top-ness. There are plenty of drug crazed moments and long stretches with DiCaprio screaming, but these moments don’t really add to the content of the film, other than to put it out there and say “yeah, they did this.”
Rotten Tomatoes: 77% (Difference: +0.3).
Where to see it: I’ll admit my theater experience was a bit…uncomfortable. Still, I don’t think the theater adds anything to the experience and if you tend toward the squeamish side you might prefer a home viewing.
Favorite Moment: Really anything involving Jonah Hill. His rise as a serious actor has been one of my favorite real-life Hollywood story-lines over the last few years. We’ve seen plenty of serious/dramatic actors transition their careers into comedies with moderate success (I’m looking at you Bobby….just kidding Mr. De Niro…you’re the best), but the reverse is less common especially with the degree of success Hill has attained. It will be interesting to see how he fairs at the Academy Awards with his second nomination for Best Supporting Actor. My money is on either Jared Leto or Michael Fassbender (I’m pulling for Leto).
Thanks for reading!