The Wolf of Wall Street ★★★

A strange movie that I found completely antiseptic to its charms for at least an hour; a film full of starts and stops that never seems to be building toward anything—structural gambit or failure of scripting? Belfort never seems in competition with people like Goldman and JP Morgan and when he brings them up its only to deflect the heart of him, so he’s not interested in power. Plus, the film repeatedly has Belfort explicitly deny us any interest in what he was doing to make his money except doing it illegally, so it has no interest in actually anything resembling a history. As I discussed with Keith Uhlich on our Top 10 podcast at 2:10, I find myself pretty much disinterested instead of seduced into the culture ala Goodfellas, and Scorsese seems to be at a distance as well (ie. Henry wakes up with a close-up on a gun in his face when he’s accused of cheating; Jordan gets splashed with water in overly comic medium shots). His camera movements are occasionally showy—we’re not being snaked seductively through the Copa as much as circling round and round a three-ring circus—and the song choices sometimes clever but often left me head scratching (some may claim my music ignorance at fault but I didn’t know most of the bands the first time I saw Goodfellas and that didn’t matter). Certain set pieces—the first encounter with the FBI on the boat, the Jerry Lewis inspired Lemmons sequence—are obviously highpoints, thanks to DiCaprio’s seductively realized performance. I’ve felt quite ambivalent about DiCaprio playing these big man cartoons in Gatsby and Django, but here he finally nails the tone of not just being a cartoon—his IPO speech (“I want you to solve your problems by getting rich”) seduces me into a greed is fucking awesome mantra much more than any amount of hookers and drugs could ever do.

As much as it might work as satire,, there seems to two major forces at play that for some reason I can’t really resolve together—mainly, the comic set pieces and its push for outlandish jokes with the film’s interest in showing the pervasiveness of this culture. Bilge nails it when he says the film is too deplorable of the culture at the get-go, so the film’s narrative structure never really goes anywhere, and I think Ignatiy is correct that there’s something about the psychology is too distanced. Scorsese and Winter have clearly chosen a pathway where we’re always at a remove—he’s essentially mocking Belfort’s Road to Damascus moment with the plane crash as a comically CGI Bizzaro moment. The film’s finale is perfect—the sequence on the subway and the Touch of Sin-esque final shot—but those feel like answers to a different movie. I don’t need Jordan in prison, but there’s a weird distance between our complicity as suggested in the final shot and the distance Scorsese creates. We get a lot of hows in terms of spending and a laundry list of moral offenses, but that’s somehow often feels disconnected from what seems to be the thematic core (I’d love to hear thoughts of the following: slow-mo Jonah Hill, the “daddy” scene, the dueling voiceovers). Nick Pinkerton’s deservedly praised piece nails exactly what this film is (and goes without saying the moralists are pretty much idiots in this case), but this film requires one to be seduced in order to critique, to want to be these guys in order to realize our complicity. I’m left on the sidelines here looking for Coach Scorsese to put me in.

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