Director Martin Scorsese takes a stab at unveiling modern day human nature and our corrupted vision of the American dream in The Wolf of Wall Street.
Infused with Lamborghinis, yachts, drugs, sex, unimaginable amounts of cash, more drugs and more sex; the moral message of excess in America isn’t boding well with critics. According to screenwriter Terence Winter, “We never learn anything and things don’t change” and this unfavorable look at our economy doesn’t bode well with viewers. Cinemascore, a service that polls audience members during opening weekend, stamped Wolf with a C-grade ultimately questioning the intentions of the movie. Whether or not the film glorified corruption remains debatable, yet ultimately left patrons in disgust with the final product. “Shame on you” was in ear shot of Scorsese the night of the film’s opening screening.
Too conservative, misinformed or oblivious to the greater message that Scorsese meant to unveil, most critics missed the boat for the racy stock-broker film. 75-year-old Academy member Hope Holiday (who starred in 1960’s The Apartment), openly expressed his disgust on her Facebook page. It’s unlikely that Hope will be viewing Blue is the Warmest Color nor Nymphomaniac. Thank God.
Is The Wolf of Wall Street disgusting? Absolutely! Is it too flashy and over-the-top? Rightfully so! What these swindlers did to the unsuspecting middle class (not just the 1% like the movie says), by taking from the rich and putting in their pockets incinerated the bank accounts of many unsuspecting victims. Ironically receiving wide release in theaters on Christmas Day (Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals), Scorsese is really pointing his finger at all of us. Although the events surrounding Jordan Belfort (Leonardo Dicaprio) occurred during the 80s and early 90s, the film’s reflection on present day hasn’t faltered. If this is the year of the corrupted American dream (The Great Gatsby, Spring Breakers, The Bling Ring), then The Wolf of Wall Street’s message reigns supreme regarding the greed of human nature—always wanting more, but never fully satisfied.
And guess what? Members of the Academy aren’t swallowing this reality pill well at all, and why would they? They’re pissed! Critics seem to get in an uncomfortable huff when a film isn’t told the way they want audiences to see it by adorning ourselves in a favorable light (last year’s Zero Dark Thirty, anyone?).
While The Wolf of Wall Street’s debauchery seems too unbelievable and more creatively scripted by Scorsese, the script actually closely follows Belfort’s own memoir, also titled The Wolf of Wall Street; so everything too flashy to be factual actually happened, apparently. Although Belfort didn’t make the cover, Forbes did print a damning article labeling him a “twisted version of Robin Hood who robs from the rich and gives to himself and his merry band of brokers.” But despite Belfort’s dissatisfaction toward the article, the theory of ‘all press is good press’ rang true. The offices of Stratton Oakmont became flooded with hopeful job applicants and Belfort’s empire continued to expand exponentially.
The rise and the fall of Belfort isn’t what’s rustling the feathers in the aging critic pool; it’s whether or not using Belfort’s memoir as the backbone of the story was an ethical decision? The film in a sense glorifies the antics and obscenities of how far Belfort and his cronies could really go into the immoral cesspool they created. But Belfort isn’t the hero; he’s the anti-hero in Scorsese’s cautionary tale. Who are we to question how the great Marty should tell a story? Similarly, with Scorsese’s Goodfellas and Casino critics questioned whether the sympathy given toward those characters led to the glorification of crime in each film.
The theme surrounding the corrupted American dream has been heavily intertwined in Leonardo Dicaprio’s past two films—The Great Gatsby and Django Unchained— both receiving their fair amount of criticism. The over-examination of Wolf left Dicrapio disappointed knowing that those who didn’t get Marty’s intentions missed the boat entirely.
“The unique thing about Marty is that he doesn’t judge his characters. And that was something that you don’t quite understand while you’re making the movie, but he allows the freedom of this almost hypnotic, drug-infused, wild ride that these characters go on. And he allows you, as an audience — guilty or not — to enjoy in that ride without judging who these people are. Because ultimately, he keeps saying this: ‘Who am I to judge anybody?’ I mean ultimately I think if anyone watches this movie, at the end of Wolf of Wall Street, they’re going to see that we’re not at all condoning this behavior. In fact we’re saying that this is something that is in our very culture and it needs to be looked at and it needs to be talked about. Because, to me, this attitude of what these characters represent in this film are ultimately everything that’s wrong with the world we live in. There’s this incessant need for consumerism and wanting more and wanting to give into every indulgence that is more rampant than ever. That shift doesn’t seem to be happening in the evolution of our species. It just seems to be getting larger and larger. So yeah, to me, look, this movie is incredibly entertaining. But what we’re talking about is, to me, a very serious subject. That’s the best way I can put it.” Leonardo Dicaprio via HitFix
Writing for LA Weekly, Christina McDowell, whose father was a victim of the criminal activities inflicted by Jordan Belfort, spoke how the film glorified the events that destroyed many people. (Note: McDowell has not actually seen The Wolf of Wall Street).
“Belfort’s victims, my father’s victims, don’t have a chance at keeping up with the Joneses. They’re left destitute, having lost their life savings at the age of 80. They can’t pay their medical bills or help send their children off to college because of characters like the ones glorified in Terry Winters’ [sic] screenplay. Let me ask you guys something. What makes you think this man deserves to be the protagonist in this story? Do you think his victims are going to want to watch it? Did we forget about the damage that accompanied all those rollicking good times? Or are we sweeping it under the carpet for the sale of a movie ticket?”
The debate rages on, and while nominations (particularly for Dicaprio and Jonah Hill) will likely pour in for the film, it’ll be no surprise when old, conservative Academy members ultimately sweep this one under the red carpet. Dicaprio delivers one of the best performances of his career while exploring a dark comedic side of his acting chops that we rarely see. Comparably, Hill embodies the smarmy, corrupt Donnie Azoff in a performance easily considered the best of his career.
What critics fail to understand is that beyond the prostitutes, Quaaludes, excessive profanity and the ski slopes of cocaine, The Wolf of Wall Street is bigger than Jordan Belfort. I never found the film to be endorsing his outlandish behavior, but more as a warning that this wolf who represents greed and excess is still alive and well in our society decades later. The story has a greater purpose than to be a people-pleaser—if critics believe the film should be told from other perspectives (like the victims), then please don’t see this movie. It’ll go above and beyond your comprehension.
Top 6 Things You Can Learn from The Wolf of Wall Street
- I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor, and it’s better to be rich, because at least you have money to deal with problems.
- Surround yourself with loyal people over smart people.
- There are some short cuts to get rich, but most of them end up like crashing a Lambo on Quaaludes.
- Learn how to mold people and pull out their talent that other people would have rejected.
- If you can’t be charismatic, then know more then everyone else in the room.
- Work hard and play really hard.