Editor’s Note (Editor? I like the sound of that!): below, please find our first guest blog from ronhamprod fan, Drew Marksity. If anyone else would like to take a stab at an entry for us, we’d be more than happy to read your material! I think DM does a find job of covering “Wolf”, which, as I’m sure you’re aware, is now available for home viewing. We hope you enjoy this entry as much as we did – thanks again for your comments, Drew!
There is something about The Wolf of Wall Street that’s hard to figure out, that’s difficult to define or categorize. Let’s be frank that the film is too long. However, it is also very entertaining. It has a lot of visual beauty, outstanding acting, and great music. But the question is: what were director Martin Scorsese and writer Terence Winter really trying to do with this film?
Let’s start with what we can say for sure. First, the story itself is compelling. Americans love to see rich people having fun, even if they’re bad guys. And if they’re bad, we can also look forward to their downfall! Wolf delivers in this respect, even though the plot is almost more of a skeleton of a plot, as addressed further below.
Second, in terms of theme, I think it’s purposely stated at the beginning of the film, almost to get it out of the way. The mentor to main character Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey). In a single scene, Hanna tells Belfort not to care about the investors, the clients. Never let them cash out their earnings; convince them to buy more stocks; they’ll do it because they’re greedy; and as a result only the brokers ever make actual, real money (commissions and fees). More importantly, he demonstrates that Wall Street guys should do anything to keep themselves going and to get pleasure, in his case martinis, cocaine, hookers, and workday masturbation! The importance of this scene is that it’s as if the filmmakers wanted have McConaughey’s character simply tell the audience the type of characters we will be dealing with, instead of having to actually develop them. That way, they could get right to the drug use, sex, and general hilarity which make up the main fabric of the film.
Next, we are carried quickly through some pesky plot advancement: establishing Jordan Belfort’s sales prowess, his discovery of “penny stock” sales in which brokers receive 50% commission (instead of the normal 3%), and the assembling of a team starting with Belfort’s right hand man Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill). Then the actual plot slows down abruptly. Frankly, not a whole lot happens after the first half hour and before the last half hour. The characters just party. Jonah Hill is hilarious. Supporting cast members like Kenneth Choi steal individual scenes. There are many more comedic scenes than dramatic scenes, but it’s as if Scorsese cannot quite fully commit to a comedy.
The film avoids detail or much time spent on the particulars of Belfort’s system and the various things that his brokerage firm did to bend – and then break – the rules. The firm starts selling blue chip stocks along with their penny stocks, they start handling IPOs, but all is treated quickly, keeping the bulk of the time on funny interactions between – and the hedonism of – the characters. Even the inevitable depiction of moving vast amounts of cash to Switzerland is primarily an opportunity for more comic scenes. The film decidedly refuses to portray detail about the investigation by the FBI agent in pursuit (Kyle Chandler), a character who is not developed. Any spare moment is used to show the lifestyle of these young, wildly successful early 90s stockbrokers.
The comedy covers the full gamut. There’s a scene where Belfort takes Quaaludes all day in order to fall asleep for a plane trip. He and Donnie Azoff are pulling on their friend’s toupee; they’re aggressively hitting on the flight attendants; it’s out of control and hilarious. The actors draw us in, the mood reminiscent of the scene in Goodfellas when Joe Pesci’s character has a whole restaurant laughing. These are not people we like, but we still love laughing with them. Another memorable scene is where Belfort’s father (Rob Reiner) walks into the office where Belfort and his friends try not to laugh and attempt to justify some outrageous expenses. This scene is reminiscent of comedies like Old School or even Anchorman. Then there’s the very lengthy sequence in which Belfort and Danny ingest an older, more powerful type of Quaalude. Resulting escapades include an incredibly creative and amusing scene of Belfort low-crawling out of a country club and down a flight of stairs. That scene finds its siblings in true drinking/drug films such as Van Wilder or Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.
So the question is: did Scorsese and Winter start out with a Wall Street drama and decide to turn it into a comedy? Or, was it written as a comedy to begin with? Regardless, they should have chosen a genre. If it was supposed to be a true comedy, then we don’t need several scenes. Cut the one on the yacht where Belfort obtusely tries to bribe the FBI agent. Cut out all but one of Belfort’s long speeches to his ambitious stock broker troops (listen for a newly developed yell/growl by DiCaprio which smacks of Departed co-star Jack Nicholson). Take out the long “I’m-leaving-no-I-change-my-mind” speech, during which Belfort takes the opportunity to recount his own chivalrous assistance to a newly-hired female broker who went on to became a top seller in the firm. Leave out the suspense as to whether Belfort will rat out his friends at the end. Cut the fights and dramatic sex between Belfort and wife; we don’t care what happens there if this is a comedy.
On the other hand, if the film was supposed to be a true drama, then other scenes could have been axed. There are too many full, extended scenes of debauchery. One on the yacht, one at the office, one in the beach house: that would have been sufficient. And, we wouldn’t need so many extended scenes with slow-motion close-ups of Quaaludes. We know the characters use drugs; we don’t need to see them snorting cocaine off of every flat surface in New York, along with every female body part. Scorsese apparently loves his drug scenes as much as Vince Gilligan and his merry band of directors loved their methamphetamine-cooking sequences in Breaking Bad. Also, unless the film was meant not only to be a comedy but specifically to be a college-style comedy like Animal House or Road Trip, then there are too many sex scenes. It’s hard for a red-blooded American male to complain about seeing the beautiful new actress Margot Robbie and a host of other beauties in skin-tight clothes or no clothes at all, but there’s just too much of it.
Ultimately, the filmmakers failed to pick a single genre, and the result is a three hour movie that tries to do too much. Maybe they originally intended to make a drama, but as they filmed they had so much fun and ended up with so many funny scenes that they just could not cut them out. Despite an overall negative feeling as I left the theater, what’s weird is that I still know I’ll watch it again. Jonah Hill and DiCaprio are laughing so hard and so often; it was clearly a good time, and the result is entertaining. Years from now, my friends and I will probably quote particular lines, just as we do lines from Goodfellas and The Departed. And in a couple decades, when I’m flipping cable channels, if I catch The Wolf of Wall Street in the first hour, I’ll probably get hooked and watch it once again.
And now, a billboard that was visible on Sunset Blvd. earlier this year: