This is a disappointing movie from the world’s greatest living director. Watching The Wolf of Wall Street was like listening to a lazy three-hour jam from Miles Davis. Sure, its Miles Davis, so moments of it are great. But, overall, you’re still bored and wonder what the point was. The same is true here. Scorsese is incredible, as always. He knows how to frame a shot and move the camera. Certain scenes, like when Coach Taylor and Leo are on the yacht, or when Coach breaks in arrests people in the brokerage house, are perfectly executed. (The latter even uses “Mrs. Robinson” by the Lemonheads as some kind of meta-joke, I think.) Marty knows when to let his camera linger, like in an early scene with Matthew McConaughey, or when to use his signature camera sweeps, like in the crazy bachelor-party scene.
And not just Marty came to play: Leonardo DiCaprio is a force of nature. He is one of the greatest actors of his generation, and he knows it. This performance was stunning. He really captured the strange emptiness of this character. Leo is just compelling to watch. Jonah Hill is also interesting as DiCaprio’s cousin-marrying right-hand-man. Despite solid performances from the whole caste, the movie belongs to Leo.
But in service of what? This movie was three hours: Three hours! And it is three hours of one tone. Even the most exciting drug use and fucking gets boring after three hours. Who cares? And, while we are at it, who cares about the victims of the crimes here? This movie doesnt care. Who cares about an American system teetering toward Babylon? Not this movie! Look, I am the last person to say a movie needs to have a “message.” (The message of every movie should be “this is a good movie.”) But Wolf stopped being fun because it didn’t even begin to grapple with these issues. Hence, I could never forget them. I kept thinking about the American Hustle—a much better film in nearly every way—and how that film wrestled with themes of identity and wealth in the U.S. American Hustle also poked at the American dream and our ability (or inability) to re-invent ourselves. But whereas AH is constantly questioning this reinvention, while also showing us why some people need it, The Wolf of Wall Street does not grapple with these complexities at all. Why worry about these issues, you whiny Don Draper, when you can snort cocaine out of a woman’s ass?
And speaking of women: My lord this movie hates women! This is also a contrast with American Hustle, which featured women with their own agency, identity, needs, and personality. In Wolf, the women are merely cum receptors for men. They have no agency or identity. (And, ironically, one of the few ethical moments in movie comes from DiCaprio’s first wife.) Women are things that consume men’s penises and money. After the relatively interesting women in Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and Casino, the women in Wolf are a Bechdel nightmare.
Maybe this is commentary about the corrupt nature of American capitalism. If it is, it is a shallow one. And maybe that is the point. It didn’t work for me. You know what movie I wanted to see? I would have loved a movie focusing on Coach Taylor chasing after Leo. I would have watched that film, but even then, maybe not for three hours.