The Wolf of Wall Street by Martin Scorsese

The Wolf of Wall Street by Martin Scorcese

 

Martin Scorsese’s latest is based on the memoirs of Jordan Belfort, a New York stockbroker and founder of Stratton Oakmont, a company which engaged in securities fraud and corruption on Wall Street during the nineties. 


First off, the performances are top-notch. Leonardo DiCaprio has managed to find new depths by playing a character that is even debatably worse than the racist plantation owner in Django Unchained. DiCaprio has done more than enough to win his Oscar, and winning for The Wolf of Wall Street is as good any of his other roles. My favorite DiCaprio performance is still Howard Hughes in The Aviator. Though my vote goes to McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club this year. Speaking of which, McConaughey has a great cameo as Jordan’s mentor, who gives Belfort the inspirational push. However, Jonah Hill is the standout as Belfort’s psychotic sidekick Donnie Azoff, delivering an even more impressive performance than in Moneyball.

At a 3-hour running time, the film is too long and it easily could have been shorter with less party scenes and throwing midgets into giant dartboards at the office. As a rise-and-fall story, it has too much ‘rise’ and not enough ‘fall’. I wanted the story to move on and inform us about the financial damage this all caused and all the lives it hurt in the process, but Scorsese does not seem interested in the forensics. Overall there are some very good party set pieces and funny scenes, but after a while, I was just numb.

The story is essentially told from the villain’s point of view. Extending this idea to the classic children’s storybook The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, which is told from the Big Bad Wolf’s perspective. The Wolf retells the Three Little Pigs story and asks the reader to consider his side of the story. The Wolf was simply trying to bake a cake for his grandmother’s birthday while nursing a bad cold, and things got out of hand. Therein lies my criticism: there is nothing redeemable from the Jordan Belfort character in The Wolf of Wall Street. Or at the very least, the filmmakers do not seem interested in showing anything beyond the surface. 

The breaking-the-4th-wall story device of having the villain narrate his story to the audience is raunchy and creative, but Scorsese totally forgets that it is supposed to be ironical. The premise of the black comedy is that we’re supposed to laugh at how vile and putrid these people are. But by the nth orgy scene, the characters are matted into two dimensions and we never get beneath the surface. The morality play tips over to the other side and it mistakenly justifies itself. Just because this a tale about self-indulgent shallow people doesn’t mean we have to tell their story in a self-indulgent shallow fashion.

The bad taste left in my mouth at the end is not the film’s self-indulgence, but out of worry that The Wolf of Wall Street is so unclear about its cautionary message, that there are certain viewers that will admire this lifestyle and become inspired to become a stock broker. For the rest of that find the Belfort character repugnant will feel empty wondering what justified the three-hour running time.

Related Links
Django Unchained by Quentin Tarantino
Hugo by Martin Scorsese

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Iron Man 3 by Shane Black

Iron Man 3 by Shane Black

When Tony Stark’s world is torn apart by a formidable terrorist called the Mandarin, he starts an odyssey of rebuilding and retribution.

Iron Man 3 follows in the vein of  The Dark Knight Rises and Skyfall in which a hero is broken apart entirely and has to put himself back together. I personally like this story of a hero falling, rebuilding himself and rising again. The similarities in story for both Rises and Skyfall didn’t bother me because both films individualized the story specifically towards its hero.

Unfortunately, this is where Iron Man 3 drops the ball. The event that causes Tony Stark’s fall does not make much sense. What happened to Stark’s friend wouldn’t lead to what happened, let’s just leave it at that. The rebuilding of Tony Stark is the strongest portion and was something new. They do a good job breaking Tony Stark apart and putting him in a place where has to work without his armor. But Iron Man 3 makes its biggest sin in its third act when Tony Stark resurges – they forget and forego the essence of Tony Stark.

The story events that are affecting the characters never seem to match logically. Why is Tony Stark stressed about the New York incident in The Avengers? He didn’t cause the incident. Is it post-traumatic stress? It didn’t seem so, but it was not clear. Shouldn’t his guilt be centered upon his past as a weapons arm dealer and his continuing journey to right his past mistakes?

What they choose to do with The Mandarin was disappointing. He is a plot device, he’s not a character. Ben Kingsley is just collecting a cheque and selling some self-parody. I’m not even going into Guy Pearce’s villain except to say his character motivations were underwritten and his abilities are ridiculous.

Shane Black is one of my favorite screenwriters (The Last Boyscout and the first two Lethal Weapon films) and I am a big fan of his directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It was nice how they were a Christmas theme running through the film, like in all the other Shane Black screenplays. I’d like to believe the finished product was not the film he wanted to make. In fact, I bet a year or two from now we’ll be hearing a statement from Shane Black about how he did not have creative control or had a better draft of the script that was heavily changed. Or he could have dropped the ball. Who knows? Seriously, the script seems written by a marketing committee, checklisting certain plot points from successful examples such as Skyfall and The Dark Knight Rises, and forcibly inserting them into the script.

I remember years ago reading a quote from Shane Black saying how the producers on The Last Boyscout bought his script based on his ability to write sharp witty one-liners, not on account of the story or anything creative he was trying to achieve. That complaint is talismanic of the problem with the use of humor in Iron Man 3. There were way too many silly jokes that didn’t add to the story and it kept distracting from the seriousness of what was happening. It’s a poor unnecessary attempt to make things family friendly.

Let me make something clear, I do not equate these criticisms against the film having to follow The Avengers. It was a good choice to not include S.H.I.E.L.D, Nick Fury and the other Avengers, and set it as a solo Tony Stark story. But the place they go with the character totally nullifies the entire essence of Tony Stark. It would have been like Batman using a time machine to stop the death of his own parents, so he can stop being Batman. First of all, that would be okay if this was the last Iron Man movie. But it isn’t, this is the beginning of Marvel Phase 2. Secondly, having the hero removing his very own essence without fighting through a conflict is just plain cheating.

As I’ve said with my Avengers review, Marvel doesn’t need to make more solo movies if they don’t have legitimate stories to tell, they can just make more Avengers movies at this point. They’ve already upped the ante and we’re naturally expecting more.

I like Shane Black and Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, and they’ll move on to do better things. But this sadly wasn’t one of them. It’s the weakest of the three.