Martin Scorsese’s latest feature is a messy, amoral 3 hour masterpiece. There’s so much wrong with this movie, and I loved almost every minute of it. For those who haven’t seen the trailers, Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort, a young, high-flying New York stock broker. We’re first introduced to him at an office party in his newly founded firm, where people throw hired dwarves wearing Velcro suits at a giant bull’s-eye for entertainment. If you were puzzled by that last sentence, then you need to see this movie.
The story is fairly linear, charting the rise and “fall” of the title character. He arrives in New York clean-cut and sober, and soon we find him snorting coke out of various orifices, revelling in a life of financial crime. It’s nothing we haven’t seen or heard of before. But it’s the too-strange-not-to-be-true anecdotes which allow the movie to last for 3 hours, and leave the audience primed for an hour more. I haven’t read the real-life Jordan Belfort’s memoir, but I suspect some of the scenes and the voice-over narration were taken directly from it. The lunch with Matthew McConaughey and the boardroom meeting in preparation for the dwarf-throwing contest were standouts. However, many of these episodes are dull and repetitive, and Jonah Hill’s character, at times captivatingly weird, can be just plain annoying.
The plot meanders with slightly uneven pacing. We find “The Wolf” on a yacht in the Mediterranean, a park bench in London, and an interrogation room at the Zurich Airport, and I occasionally forgot why. There’s an FBI back-story, and yes Belfort does suffer some legal repercussions for his “unorthodox” practices. But overall this movie can hardly be summed up with the cliché “Crime doesn’t pay.” DiCaprio, in an interview, maintained that it was a “cautionary tale.” I don’t think he can or should have to make that point. It clearly celebrates Belfort and everything that he represents.
But that, I believe, is the beauty of art. If you try and judge a book or a movie based on whether or not you agree with the ideas it contains, then you’re missing out on the fun. Of course The Wolf is biased. Even Belfort’s time in jail is portrayed as a holiday, and none of the victims of his fraud are ever shown. What’s the point of all this? In the wake of a recession, where people lost their jobs and the ability to support their families, to glorify the greed that caused the market melt-down? I don’t know.
But it’s best if you leave these questions aside. Belfort is like the perpetually drunk, slightly sketchy uncle you encounter once a year at Christmas dinner, who regales you with tall tales from his dubious past. You could get up and leave in a huff of moral indignation, or relax for three hours, listen and enjoy.
PHOTOS// themoviola, post-gazette