The Wolf of Wall Street was just accorded five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture of the Year, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor. Five nominations means you should rush out and see it, right?
As a film critic, I want to enhance filmgoers’ enjoyment of good films with an insight or two. Or help you avoid unworthy films. I’m conscious of how much money it costs to see movies these days, which is why (despite complaints) I sometimes urge you to see a particular movie at the bargain matinee, or wait until it comes out on DVD. As a lifelong feminist, I am dedicated to improving the image of women onscreen, and to further their employment behind the camera.
That’s why I rated this film three stars, Mixed Bag. On the positive side, The Wolf of Wall Street is a well-crafted movie. It’s top-notch in all cinematic skills, as any movie directed by the talented Martin Scorsese would be. (He is, after all, the mastermind of some of my favorite films, such as Hugo, Shutter Island and Kundun — an astonishing variety of work.)
It was fun to see all the costumes and fancy cars and yachts, the sprawling mansions and interior decoration to die for. Best Actor nominee Leonardo DiCaprio, as he always is, was interesting to watch, albeit in a character arc without nuance or growth. Best Supporting Actor nominee, Jonah Hill, who is usually not watchable, did a career-leaping job as an unlikable nebbish who turns into an unlikable millionaire.
The movie lasted three hours. 180 minutes. And I spent 170 of those minutes bored out of my mind. I did enjoy the first ten minutes, in which a terrifyingly manic boss, Matthew McConaughey, dishes out career advice to a young and eager newbie.
Wolf is the story of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), a greedy wunderkind of the 1990s. On his way to depravity, Belfort becomes the Pied Piper to a horde of slimy disciples, making a fortune selling worthless penny stocks. Before he could get his loot stowed away safely in Switzerland, the feds threw him into the slammer. After a measly 22 months, he walked out and turned himself into a career coach. Thrilling story line, eh?
There must be something else in this movie, you insist. Yes — sex. Not sexy sex. Just cold, faceless, soulless couplings every couple minutes. With anything that moves, paid or unpaid, in bathrooms, on desks, on the freeway, on their backs, on their fronts, sometimes with flaming candle wax dribbled on their behinds. Fun, huh? Oh, there is an occasional wife in the movie — most notable is Belfort’s second wife, Naomi (drop-dead gorgeous Aussie transplant, Margot Robbie). In essence, she’s as shallow as everybody else in this movie, she’s just prettier. Let’s not forget Wolf’s supporting players — alcohol, cocaine, uppers, downers, and the queen of them all — Quaaludes. The never-ending drug scenes, including Jonah Hill’s near-death, are a real laugh riot.
Writer Terence Winter (TV’s Boardwalk Empire) got an Oscar nod for his script, which is surprising because to me the script is not much more than an exercise in climbing a ladder of venality. Oh, and how could I forget — the F-word and its variations are used 560 times (somebody counted) — how much writing talent does it take to do that?
Surely, you protest, there must be some redeeming social value in this movie? Well, yes, there is. The end credits finally arrive.
Granted, this is a movie about excess, so it’s excessive. It’s Martin Scorsese’s right as director of the movie to make it the way he wants. You can’t condemn an artist for the creative decisions he or she makes. Your only response to creative decisions you don’t like is to refuse to pay for them.
In the meantime, if you want to see greed and corruption done with hilarity, humanity, great hair, and wonderful style, topped with two terrific roles for women (Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence), see American Hustle. It got ten Oscar nominations. (See my review at www.boldlife.com.)