3View: Taking Stock of ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’

'The Wolf of Wall Street' Review:

Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” has drawn mixed reviews — even among the Variety critics. Here, in addition to Scott Foundas’ full review, Justin Chang and Peter Debruge offer competing takes.

Justin Chang
Score: 7/10

In “The Wolf of Wall Street,” Martin Scorsese’s brilliantly repugnant portrait of retired white-collar crook Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), you never see any of the victims — those nameless middle-class masses who paid (and are still paying) for Belfort’s crimes. In a movie that spends 179 minutes detailing every Quaalude-popping, hooker-spanking particular of the Stratton Oakmont lifestyle, this is not an insignificant omission, and some are sure to see it as a glaring failure of sympathy.

Yet it strikes me as deliberate on the part of Scorsese and scribe Terence Winter, who are less interested in exacting strict cinematic restitution than in bringing you fully into Belfort’s boiler-room mindset and allowing you to take the full measure of his moral oblivion. They also trust you’ve scanned a headline in the past decade. In this context, a passing reference to victims — which would look like what, a violin-scored montage of poor dupes receiving foreclosure notices? — wouldn’t just be perfunctory; it would be an insult.

If “The Wolf of Wall Street” at times feels like an invitation to an orgy, it is just as often slyly, programmatically subversive of the hedonism it ostensibly glorifies. At a certain point in this very funny film, the laughter dies in your throat, and Belfort’s ill-gotten gains begin to lose their luster. Marriages crumble. A helicopter falls to earth, a yacht nearly capsizes, and Belfort crashes two cars; it’s amusing the first time, horrifying the second. And still the movie goes on, swaggering and relentless, building over three increasingly unbearable hours to a withering assessment of the fratboy clowns who were permitted to ransom this country’s future.

To simultaneously embody and critique a culture of greed is a tricky feat, and Scorsese, with his flair for spinning crooked shenanigans into great, amoral joyrides, isn’t always in control of his material. But control isn’t the point. A more sober approach would never have allowed for the gonzo feats of physical comedy DiCaprio achieves here (in an OD scene for the history books); nor would it have allowed for this movie’s excoriating journey from amusement and arousal to shock and outrage, finally depositing the viewer in a state of nauseated numbness. The consequences may be offscreen, but Scorsese trusts us to recoil from what we see.

leonardo dicaprio wolf of wall street

Peter Debruge
Score: 3/10

The real Jordan Belfort stands 5-foot-7. “The Wolf of Wall Street” makes him 12 feet tall.

After serving nearly two years in prison for manipulating the stock market and bilking investors, Belfort went on to become a motivational speaker. “The Wolf of Wall Street” might as well be his motivational speech: a three-hour smorgasbord of sex and drugs, adapted from his memoir and presented as the reward for outwitting the system.

Just as Brian De Palma’s “Scarface” went on to find a toxic second life — a caricature of criminal excess turned aspirational success story — Martin Scorsese’s “Wolf” seems destined to inspire a fresh crop of degenerates to ignore its potential cautionary power and embrace the lifestyle it represents.

In his book “On Moral Fiction,” novelist John Gardner valiantly crusaded on behalf of responsible art, which he argued, “seeks to improve life, not debase it.” Whatever momentary amusement Scorsese’s improv-addled comedy offers aside, “Wolf” is a vile and poisonous piece of satire directed at an unscrupulous culture of excess. It depicts capitalism gone unconscionably wrong and invites us to party along with the drug-addled rewards of seemingly victimless white-collar criminality.

“I’m a former member of the middle class,” announces Leonardo DiCaprio’s Belfort, delivering his “MTV Cribs”-worthy narration from behind the wheel of a Ferrari while his former-Miller-Lite-model wife’s head bobs up and down in his lap. This, unfortunately, is the new American way, where wealth and status matter, but not the dubious means by which they are attained — a distinction that places Belfort in the same class as Jay Gatsby, another (albeit fictional) millionaire DiCaprio played earlier this year.

But “The Great Gatsby” stood for something: a tragic money-can’t-buyhappiness fable even Baz Luhrmann’s over-the-top theatrics couldn’t suppress. Belfort receives his slap on the wrist, but that’s not the point. In “Wolf,” the criminals not only live like stars, but are actually embodied by them, while the law-abiding chump (Kyle Chandler) takes the subway.

leonardo dicaprio wolf of wall street jonah hill

Scott Foundas
Score: 7/10

Even Gordon Gekko looks like a veritable lap dog compared to Jordan Belfort, the self-proclaimed “Wolf of Wall Street” whose coked-up, pill-popping, high-rolling shenanigans made him a multi-millionaire at age 26, a convicted felon a decade later, and a bestselling author and motivational speaker a decade after that. Now, Belfort’s riches-to-slightly-less-riches tale has been brought to the screen by no less a connoisseur of charismatic sociopaths than Martin Scorsese, and the result is a big, unruly bacchanal of a movie that huffs and puffs and nearly blows its own house down, but holds together by sheer virtue of its furious filmmaking energy and a Leonardo DiCaprio star turn so electric it could wake the dead.

After going unexpectedly kid-friendly for 2011’s “Hugo” (his first PG movie in two decades), Scorsese could hardly have followed with a more dramatic about-face than “Wolf,” which skirts the very outer limits of the R rating with its nonstop barrage of drug-fueled decadence, all put across with a sinister smile. In the first reel alone, which aptly sets the tone for what’s to come, Belfort (DiCaprio) can be seen snorting coke off a prostitute’s backside, getting fellated while driving his white Ferrari, and nearly crashing his private helicopter while high on a homemade cocktail of Quaaludes, Xanax and morphine (the last one “because it’s awesome”). If some of the advance hype suggested that “Wolf” was going to be a kind of “Goodfellas” on Wall Street, in reality it’s more like the jittery, paranoid third act of that movie stretched out to three hours, starting at a fever pitch and heading toward the nuclear. Read the full review

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  1. ITTTY IT says:

    Those wishing to see thru the highly skilled manipulations
    of Scorsese need look no further than his heyday gems,
    ‘Raging Bull’ and ‘Goodfellas’.

    While there’s NO denying the brilliant, if narrowly, and pointlessly
    PSYCHOPATHIC ensemble —–AFTER one reads the actual source
    material and books —-the scales fall from your eyes.

    Scorsese was reaching for the cheap and arty tricks —even back then.



  2. IT OUT says:

    OLIVER STONE’s already filled to overflowing, done-to-death —litterbox.

    Scorsese continues into his third decade of second hand nowhere.

  3. larry says:

    I walked out on this trash–Dicaprio must of been hard up for a part–shows what hollywood is made
    of —junk and drugs

  4. Tom Morrissey says:

    The fact is Jordan is sitting at home laughing he ass off , because he conned everyone again . This man is a crook , he lied and stole from people like your parents and grand parents . Jordan knew exactly What he was doing than and knows exactly what he is still doing now . Ripping people off ! Back in ’89 ,I asked you to do the right thing , let’s see if you do it now . Pay those people back , and than maybe people we believe in you . It’s never to late ..

  5. echarleen says:

    I wish I could unsee it. This was porn with a slightly better storyline.

    • rich Carey says:

      If we were living in Ancient Rome at the height of it’s decadence; This piece of trash would fit right in…The Director and star have both lost me.. I can not believe they put their names on this piece of worthless decay…Rich

  6. Miss Valentine. says:

    For the real story read LA Weekly “The Wolf’s Con”. By the daughter of Tom Prousalis. Martin scorseses no better than Tom himself, just another Hollywood whore making $ off the working man.

  7. Linda Frances says:

    The wolf of Wall Street was truly a ugly film! I do not recommend it in any way, I wish I could forget it! How does it inspire or elevate anyone to see what can only be called Porn, and view how low society can be.
    A very strange movie to open on Christmas. What a shame.

  8. lisa runnels says:

    I wonder if holly holiday was the one pushing the card for les misrables—torturous film—-lol

  9. JJ says:

    So. F-ing sick of the Scorsese/DiCaprio partnership. For the love of God, Marty. Move on. You only think you need him to fund a movie. You don’t.

    • CitizenTM says:

      The reality is the reverse. DiCaprio brings these pictures to Scorsese, who has no wish to retire. I stopped following Scorsese years ago – an auteur became a salesman of his own brand.

  10. kafantaris2 says:

    You say we have become too sanitized and hooked on feel-good films.
    That we foolishly deem the rich and powerful to live ordinary lives, much like our own.
    That we see great human suffering not next door, but in far away places, affecting other people.
    That we naively believe that justice and fairness ultimately prevails.
    That we even prefer to think the meat we eat is actually not the animals we have killed.
    “Can’t handle the truth.”
    We prefer our own truth. We want a story — any story — that helps through the routine.
    “But you are missing out on the human experience the raw of life affords us.”
    We wouldn’t know.

  11. Tony says:

    Rather than attack a directors history of movies or focus primarily on attacking the content of the film, perhaps it might be nice to get a more objective evaluation considering the script, acting, cinematography, directing style and all else involved in a movie formula. I feel like I’m listening to my born-again Christian girlfriend’s opinion on a movie after she walked out 15 minutes in. If I want a review on how offensive the content of a film was, I will turn to Facebook.

    • FTCS says:

      Okay, Tony.

      To be absolutely fair, Scorsese and his team have certainly executed the art of filmmaking at a high level. In fact, I cannot remember a Scorsese film where the pieces were not top caliber.

      So, with this in mind…in this case the TOTAL is far less than the sum of its parts. Just because a film is shot and posted well with fine performances does not make it good or bad.

      Filmmaking always starts with story and character…and, sadly, the Wolf of Wall Street has neither a story nor characters which warrant three hours of viewing of their gluttony with little or no soul.

      • bob wire says:

        Shutter Island come to mind? And thats just off the top of my head about a Marty and Di Caprio flop and bomb of a flick….this latest? Just an excuse to do porn without real porn stars…Martin is losing it.

  12. Rob says:

    Peter Debruge’s review confirms my worst fears about this. Scorsese’s persistent admiration for thugs and psychotics was just about tolerable 35 years ago (‘He’s a young man, he’ll grow out of it’, etc) but it’s dispiriting and sadly revealing of the director’s limitations that he’s still ploughing that same hoary furrow now that he’s in his 70’s.

    There’s something stunted in Scorsese’s worldview that no amount of hyperbole directed towards his flashy camera moves can hide. It’s a lack of empathy and a repetitive, one-note fascination with the seamy side of life that manifests itself in good – sometimes great – setpieces, yet always at the expense of the movie as a whole.

    • Brendan says:

      There is little or no drama in seeing a blue blood effortlessly succeed through wholesome endeavor. Marty is attracted to people of limited means and what they are willing to trade for a piece of what they see, in their flawed vision, as the American dream. For Henry Hill it was membership in an organization that would never accept him. For Ace in Casino, it was to be recognized and appreciated for his business acumen and to be free and clear of the Mob guys. In Marty’s world there is always a cost to success, and the drama occurs in looking at the ying and yang of what people are willing to pay for their piece of the pie–what is the deal with the devil? Jordan is an extremely flawed person with some empathetic traits. His charisma, drive, ambition and leadership skills are positive and could have led him to success in many ventures. His inability and unwillingness to confront his conscience and recognize the costs of his deeds to both his customers and his family make him entirely loathsome. At the end of the movie you wonder who used who between he and his wife and between Jordan and the Agent Denham. When Agent Denham is on the subway, you can hear that earlier conversation that he had with Jordan running through his head and you are not sure–and it clearly appears that he is not sure, whether he has given more than he has received. While I think that it is easy to see that most people would much more clearly empathize with the Agent Denham’s of the world, it is discomfiting to see that he appears to question his choice–and that demonstrates why it is not an easy equation on many levels for anyone. We like to talk in terms of recognizing right and wrong, but how often do we really have to make that choice and how do we know how we would react. How many times have people had a conversation about what they would do or price they would pay for all the money (or whatever other vice or asset) they would ever need. This is that equation on the big screen.

      Those who complain about the excesses are not seeing the entire picture here. It is about what are you willing to pay–to live in luxury as a jaded wife, to live an honest life as an under appreciated civil servant, or to live without a conscience getting every material good you have ever desired. Everyone has a price to pay–but what is yours, and how easy is that to judge and appreciate–is what the film is asking us.

  13. desire2will says:

    these three “reviews” disappoint in departing from Variety’s house style and forgetting to review the film. instead three men each either defend or excoriate the film as if they were personally implicated, rather than evaluating it while offering objective professional criteria and aesthetic nuance. my hunch is the unbridled sexism and misogyny was too exciting/upsetting to “review”.

    • CitizenTM says:

      Go to the link of the actual review! This is just the summary of three differing point-of-views.

      • desire2will says:

        dear citizen
        right you are. found it after posting. there is an actual review. however i still think Variety needs a woman critic to offset boys reviewing boys’ boys-go-to-hell flicks.

  14. Peggy Allen says:

    I just don’t get the “point” of the movie. I mean is it “against” willful excess or for it? I’ve seen different incarnations of the trailer for it. One is most definitely “lets treat women like trash”, the other, shown on a women friendly channel a few minutes ago, shows only scenes of women being “loved”. I have a feeling most women will not like this movie and won’t go see it with their male partners who are going to want to see this multiple times.

  15. FTCS says:

    I lived the life in a very small way. I love naked hot women and kinky stuff on the screen. I love most of Scorsese’s work, and Goodfellas is my favorite film of all time.

    That being said, I actually became both bored and disgusted with the excess of Wolf of Wall Street. This is like watching a film about the Nazi’s horrible behavior as masters of their world, but omitting the Holocaust. Again, normally I love this stuff…but, in this case I felt like Scorsese just told his audience for THREE HOURS to bend over and spread their cheeks.

  16. Troy Milsap says:

    Not that it is terribly important but one should report facts in their reviews. And it is a fact that the white automobile that DiCaprio’s character smashes up is a Lamborghini, not a Ferrari. It is a much more ostentatious and showy car than a Ferrari.

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