“Money is the best drug. It makes you a better person.”
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.
27 thoughts on “In Defense of The Wolf of Wall Street”
Great post! Honestly, all the negative press The Wolf of Wall Street is getting is so annoying. It’s like they didn’t stay through the entire movie. Christina McDowell in particular shouldn’t have been so quick to judge the movie. When she wrote that article, I don’t believe she had seen the film yet. WOWS in no way condones ANY of that behavior. Hell, the last hour of that movie is basically Jordan crashing and burning, how can anyone say it condones it? Just because a film is depicting a horrible act doesn’t mean they agree with it. They just agree the story needs to be told. I hope the Academy voters you talk about get off their damn soapboxes and recognize the film for the good time that it really is. Also CinemaScore is such a fucking joke. (IMO)
Very well said. Not once did I find any of the film glorifying what Belfort did, albeit I’m surprised he got as far as he did.
I just read an excerpt from a top critic on Rotten Tomatoes that said, “It’s hard not to feel there is a better revisit of Scorsese’s crime gem already in theaters, David O. Russell’s American Hustle.”
…brb throwing up.
Great job capturing why this film is so excellent. If one finds Wolf to be glorifying Belfort’s life that’s more of an issue with the watcher than Scorsese. If you still thought it praised the guy after his third act rock bottom then you must be crazy. I found it to be very disturbing, albeit insanely entertaining. I think some people have this humor vs. serious mentality that they think the two can’t be combined.
I heard from a few people that they thought it was “too over the top”…but from what I read, Scorsese followed Belfort’s memoir pretty closely….whether or not it’s all true, who cares? And I completely agree with the idea that critics were probably squirming with the dark subject coupled with laugh-out-loud comedy.
I saw this film on Xmas day and man… I had a lot of fun watching that film. I wish it was longer. Cinemascore is irrelevant. They give good grades to bad movies and such. I don’t pay attention to that bullshit. Besides, this was easily one of the best films I had ever seen. I wanna party w/ those guys and get rich, get all of that pie, drive nice cars, live in big houses, and all of that shit. But most of all, I want all of that poontang pie!!!
Thanks! A very fast-paced 3 hour film, unlike Blue is the Warmest Color….that movie dragged. Wolf is an example of how good editing can make three hours feel fast.
I liked Blue is the Warmest Color. I didn’t think it dragged at all. I thought that was well-paced. Wolf is correct on how to make long films seem shorter. Is another Oscar for Thelma going to happen?
Haters gonna hate, indeed. This movie was an absolute blast and whenever anybody asks me about it, I always recommend it, but never forget to warn them of the three-hour run-time. You know, as a courtesy. I may not have had a problem with it, but others definitely will and I think that will most likely judge how a person thinks of this movie when all is said and done. Nice post Courtney!
Thanks! If they have qualms with the 3-hour run time, tell them to watch Blue is the Warmest Color! Ha!
Excellent review! Belfort’s book is really amazing, in an entertaining way and in an “I can’t believe this happened” way. Can’t wait to see his antics on screen.
Thanks! It’ll be interesting for you to be able to compare the book to the film, although I know Scorsese stayed close to the source material. But that source made millions by lying, so who really knows how accurate it is? Entertaining as hell though!
Really good post! I have say I must be a hater. I really haven’t the slightest desire to see this. For me it comes down to the excessive content, or let me say ridiculously excessive content. I will never buy into the idea that 520 F-bombs (just F-bombs mind you), countless scenes of nudity and sex, and loads of drug use is necessary to tell this story with accuracy. As someone who loves new and classic movies, there have been so many good directors who could tell their stories and develop their characters without this crutch.
Now I’m not telling Marty how to make his movie. He has the right to make whatever picture he wants. But my view is strictly my own and I don’t think it’s due to being overly conservative or overly sensitive. It’s because I think it’s unnecessary if you are confident in your ability and with your material. Anything beyond that is a creative choice to push boundaries. Personally I don’t need it to understand excess, corruption, and debauchery.
Anyway, that’s my weird take on it. Off the wall I know! 😉
I seriously hope you reconsider. Despite the complaints you listed, it’s one hell of a ride to say the least. The over excessive profanity, nudity and obscenity wasn’t a crutch for entertainment value–it was the lifestyle of excess Belfort paid for. Check it out. Trust me.
I love this post. Really solid work here Courtney. I’m in full agreement with you. The film is disgusting, over-the-top, and outlandish because it wants to be. The film isn’t an advertisement, it’s an indictment, and I absolutely love it.
Thanks, Alex! Glad you agree. I hope others look beyond the cynicism surrounding this and give the movie the chance it deserves!
Lovely post, really great work here. Screw the haters. I’m beyond excited to see this, it looks like so much fun. Comes out in the UK next week.
Thank you kindly! I look forward to reading your review when you see it.
Oh, for f’s sake. Why do those critics think every film has to have a message? Why can’t a film, especially the one based on a true story just be entertaining? So they show a rich criminal partying. It’s a good story – it’s an opportunity for unique scenes and real challenge for actors. Why the hell should this have a message? It’s like they saw Shame and said film encourages people to have meaningless sex. So stupid.
I haven’t seen the film yet but I have absolutely no issue with watching something if it’s *just* pure entertainment. And it’s something too, since entertainment, skillfully done and not boring, is not that frequent in today’s movies. Killer Joe showed a bunch of despicable people but it was a great movie. Did it have a message? No. But I’m sure some self-deluded critics found one there and were professionally outraged about it.
You’re right on target with that Killer Joe and Shame comparison. Can’t wait to read your review, and I’m really hoping you like it!
You said it, Sati! Great point.
You have some solid points there 🙂 I was disgusted, but it’s based on a true story. Despite of his crazy life style, he was a loyal boss and surrounded by loyal staffs. But, I think some people could misjudged this movie. But if they aren’t, they should see it showed that greed and running after money are really the source of evil things. The guy obviously is talented and knows how dig more money, but he doesn’t care if it legal or not.
I was actually surprised how much negative feedback this movie got. When you read what Scorsese and Dicaprio have to say about what they were trying to accomplish, the “big picture” of this project makes more sense.
Yeah the problem is not all people know that. This is one ‘tricky’ movie for the viewers!
[…] (Source: onthescreenreviews.com) […]
Very cool Courtney. A lot of people hate on Wolf of Wallstreet simply because of the “gimmicky” ploys of drugs and sex that hollywood has sold a lot of. I don’t think the use of sex and drugs in this movie was a gimmick, but a representation of this guys story. Belfort is not seen as a hero at all and Leonardo’s performance, in my opinion, is pretty stellar. Not so “unsung” hero of the movie Jonah Hill also kills it in this.
Great review 🙂
Thanks, Tyler! I agree completely!
Saw it 3 months ago and loved it (if the word ‘love’ is appropriate here).
I really don’t understand what’s fucking wrong with people sometimes. It’s a movie! I must have missed all those discussions and debates when the film was out, so thanks for clarifying things and this: “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…”
Technically and artistically, it’s impeccable in what the film is trying to portray. Disgusting and over-the-top, like you said. Just how it’s supposed to be.