Lets call a spade a spade and a turkey a turkey. Despite generally positive reviews, rest assured that the Wolf of Wall Street is in reality a wolf with no clothes. Befuddled critics have been flummoxed by the Scorsese brand, which is there to full effect. Goodfellas voiceover, Casino narrative switchbacks, Mean Streets soundtrack etc etc. It’s like watching a Scorsese tribute band. The only trouble is that the tribute band has the original on bass, lead guitar and vocals. And goes on for so long you’ve almost forgotten what day it is when you come out. It’s one thing sitting through three hours of this if you’re getting paid for it and another if you’re the one forking out.
As such, before we even touch the subject matter, it’s an increasingly depressing experience. Increasingly, because the film opens with a certain amount of whiplash chutzpah. McConaughey’s cameo is the best bit of (over-) acting in the film. (The whole film is garishly over-acted, which is in keeping with a film which is garish and over-everything.) However, after about 45 minutes it becomes clear that the narrative and the edit have run away with the leash and they’re not going to be coming back in a hurry. Thereafter, as DiCaprio nerds his way around town, seeing the old master stumble through his paces becomes more and more dispiriting. Like watching an old boxer step back into the ring once too often.
Like many films which purport to be decadent and laden with vice, WOWS is a deeply nerdish enterprise. All the characters are borderline sociopaths, people who have the emotional intelligence of a peanut. DiCaprio, Marty et al might argue that that’s the point, that this is a savage indictment of US greed, but when the filmmakers themselves, from top down, are gorging themselves with such obvious delight, it’s hard to take this line in any way seriously. Boiler Room, a low-budget film, addressed the same material with much more punch. The slightly theatrical Margin Call got much closer to the nub of the matter. There’s nothing creative or revelatory about DiCaprio’s fall from grace as a low-rent Bernie Madoff. Indeed, far from critiquing its protagonist and his world, it’s evident that the film relishes and celebrates it.
You have to put this in some kind of context. In what other country or industry would a 71 year old man be put in charge of a budget of $100,000,000 (estimated, IMDB) and allowed to make a film laden with busty young women and drug-taking. If this is Scorsese’s Nero moment, it just goes to show how tedious the fantasies of a geriatric are. That he lives in a society which allows him to indulge these fantasies isn’t his fault. That he allows himself to tarnish his body of work is. Then again, when the dust has settled, no-one’s going to be going back to the Wolf to find out what was special about Marty.