There is a certain irony at the fact that the movie, "The Wolf of Wall Street," is opening on Christmas day. It's a day supposed to celebrate extending good will towards all men and women. For here is a film which extolls extending ill will towards all men and especially towards all women. Be warned: this is a three-hour long diatribe about avarice and greed told at a high level of yelling, depicting ugly, despicable men doing horrible things to all people on earth. Ring the holiday bells for director Martin Scorsese and megastar Leonardo DiCaprio....they will need all the good will they can get to overcome the heinous moral failures exalted in this movie.
Martin Scorsese directing two of the stars. All photos by Paramount Pictures
I am not going to elaborate on the story much, just know it is a picture of American capitalism run amok in a dark, drug-drenched way. Based on a non-fiction 2006 book by a convicted con man-hustler, Jordon Belfort, who followed it up with a second book, the New York Times on Friday reported that he received $940,500 for the film rights, half of which goes to a fund set up to compensate his victims. The script was written by Terence Winter, who did such good work with The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire. The producer is a woman named Emma Tillinger Koskoff, with whom I commiserate.
Leonardo DiCaprio in an early scene with Matthew McConnaughey.
Jonah Hill and Leo are co-conspirators.
When I got home after the Paramount screening at the Landmark, I turned on my TV hero, Charlie Rose, and there were the two filmmakers for the hour, with the gravel-voiced Rose gently asking them questions about the making of the film that he (Rose) obviously did not much like. I taped the show and went back to review it this morning. Leo told how he read Jordon Belfort's book about six years ago and was fascinated by the tale of the fast-talking, coke-snorting financial con-man. "I thought it was a reflection of everything that was wrong in today's society, his hedonistic life-style, the carnal indulgences, his greed and his obsession with himself." DiCaprio told how this guy had swindled thousands of people out of $110 million as head of a penny-stock boiler room in the 1990s. When he had a draft of the script, he took it to Scorsese, with whom he had made several films. Today's New York Times says that it took them five years to make the $100 million film, as most studios were wary of such an unrelenting story of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll. Finally a company called Red Granite stepped up to the plate. I hope the Red in their name doesn't reflect blood shed. Actually, I think the film will find a ready audience of people who are fascinated by the very things I have mentioned above.
Australian actress Margot Robbie is the female lead, and she is very good.
These two stalwart guys, Leo and Marty, went on at length to Rose about how "they made the movie they set out to make" without any interference from the studio or film financiers." If ever there was an argument for not giving directors final cut, especially Scorsese, this was it. Watching the 71-year old Scorsese in all his faux-professorial glory and the supremely confident 39-year old Leo in his two- thousand dollar suit and carefully-cropped beard and moustache, the latter was somewhat apologetic in his explanation that he was now seeking roles outside of the studio system. My best advice, Mr. DiCaprio, stay in the system....it will protect you from such excesses. DiCaprio said to Rose that this was a 'satire' and Marty corrected him that it wasn't, it was 'real.' As the New Yorker review said today: "Satire presented this broadly ceases to have any instructive or cleansing effect. It becomes burlesque-lewd, vaunting and self-promoting.....scene after scene explodes into an obscene fight.....hysteria is not a very productive dramatic mode." I should note here that it has been nominated for a Golden Globe in the category of "Best comedy or musical," which is actually a funny comment on those awards. If this is a comedy, it is indeed a black, black one. Masters of ceremony Tina and Amy, make of it what you can.
Kyle Chandler plays the good cop who eventually takes him down.
I have been cautioned by several friends with whom I saw the film not to write this adverse Huffington review, although as far as we could see coming out of the screening most of the audience were as numb and bewildered as we. Yes, I know, everyone will now be overcome by curiosity about it, but I caution my readers to be aware that this film has a hard R rating; it is not for the young or the squeamish. The movie centers on three speeches which Belfort makes to churn up his employees, with the first one followed by a naked marching band coming into the boiler room followed by a horde of prostitutes. The second speech was filmed brilliantly by cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, with his hand-held camera plunging into the sea of brokers like Moses parting the Red Sea. After that we see Gordon indulging in some sado-masochistic behavior involving a lighted candle (ughh). There was a scene toward the end where our 'hero', high on drugs and desperate at the net closing in around him, forceably assaults his despairing wife, who then asks him for a divorce. He goes crazy and grabs their little daughter and runs out to the garage with its score of cars, straps the little girl into the seat, and while the wife hammers his window with a shovel, crashes out of the garage and into a fence, shaking up the child and him. And me.
Terence Winter is the sceenwriter of the adaptation.
Wolf is narrated by DiCaprio in a flat New York accent, much like the narration Scorsese used in "Goodfellas" and "Casino." Leo puts his body, his voice, his entire being into his over-the-top performance. The New Yorker today: "He gives one of the most completely externalized performances in the history of movies. His performance is spiritually restrained, lacks complexity, contradiction, insight. Wolf is delivered almost all through at the same pitch of extreme aggressiveness. It is unrelenting, deafening, and finally unilluminating." It was followed by Variety's assessment: "DiCaprio doesn't just play his part, he inhales it, along with everything else that goes up Belfort's nose and into his bloodstream. The whole thing is a wild party."
I have no question the Leo will be nominated for a "Best Actor" Oscar, though I doubt he will get it over the "Twelve Years a Slave" star. I have been hearing that there is some Oscar buzz about the second lead of Wolf, Jonah Hill, and I am laughing at the thought. Just watch the scene where he organizes a dwarf-throwing contest in the office. Best supporting actor? Listen my fellow Academy members, that's a huge joke. This actor, who was so good in "Moneyball" that he won an Oscar nomination, should next get a director who will simply control excessive behavior. Yes, there was a fine actress in the film, the Australian Margot Robbie, who is both stunning and talented, in a thankless role as the second trophy wife, with some sexual scenes which were just embarrassing. (On Charlie Rose, Scorsese told how the actress came in for an audition and just nailed the role immediately.) Rob Reiner, in his first acting role in ten years, plays Gordon's bombastic father.
My Huffington readers know that I lavished enormous praise recently on Matthew McConaughey for his roles in"Mud" and "Dallas Buyers Club," but here he has only one five-minute scene which is so weird that I couldn't begin to describe it. Just let it be said it is set at a luncheon where he advises the young DiCaprio on how to succeed on Wall Street, with some unusual daily sexual exercises. The editor,Thelma Schoomaker, in Friday's Wall Street Journal, told how he ad-libbed the rest, the thumping on his chest and uttering the bird calls, concluding as he holds up a vial of cocaine: "Never work for the client, always work for yourself. Don't let the client cash in his winnings, argue him into reinvesting his winnings and grab the commission. " Thelma told us how the original version was 4 hours and 10 minutes, and they worked day-and-night to cut it down to be ready for the Christmas release date. I have no doubt that if they had more time, they might have found a way to trim another 20 or 30 minutes out of it.
The real hero of this film is a strong-jawed FBI agent, played very well by Kyle Chandler, from Zero Dark Thirty, who is today's Inspector Javert, persisting in pursuing the drug-crazed Leo character until he takes him down. One of the best scenes in the film takes place on Gordon's 170-foot yacht anchored in New York harbor, when the FBI agent comes aboard at Belfort's invitation, who then tries to bribe him without actually saying the words. It is the most nuanced scene in the movie, with undertones you don't get elsewhere. Later, at the end, we see this nice good guy riding home on the subway (which Leo had derided) looking around and smiling. I watched the extended, awful Quaalude sequence with Leo crawling on his stomach and thought to myself that Buster Keaton was the only one who could have pulled it off. Incidentally, I was appalled that the real-life character whose book they adapted only got a sentence of 36 months for all of his offenses, and served just 22 months. We see him at the end, as a motivational speaker a la Tony Hawk, at a lecture in New Zealand teaching people 'how to sell a pen.' Ridiculous. But then again, so is the movie.
Am I alone in my distaste for this film? Let me again quote from today's New Yorker: "The Wolf of Wall Street is a fake. It's meant to be an expose of disgusting, immoral, corrupt, obscene behavior, but it's made in such an exultant style that it becomes an example of disgusting, obscene filmmaking. It's actually a little monotonous, spectacular, and energetic beyond belief, but monotonous in the way that all burlesques become monotonous after a while." The screenwriter, Terence Winter, was quoted today as saying: The point of the movie is... we don't learn anything. Nothing has changed." How true and how depressing. I realize that I have probably not dissuaded you from going to see it.....au contraire, probably encouraged you to do so. The curiosity factor is too high. So I suggest you bring a pillow for your rear end and a flask of whiskey for the rest of your body and soul.
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