The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street ★★★★★

4, maybe 5, thoughts on The Wolf of Wall Street:

1) It's no surprise that Scorsese is associated (somewhat reductively) with the gangster film; Mean Streets, Goodfellas and Casino are, perhaps, the best examples of the genre in its late form. The three films form a sort of digestive series: in Mean Streets, the gangsters are nearly powerless hustlers; in Goodfellas, they're more dangerous but still underground; in Casino, they practically run a major American city. The gangster is a pill America took, and it spread throughout its system. The Wolf of Wall Street fits nicely as the fourth part of this series. Now, the gangsters are not just accepted by the system, but are considered to be an integral part of it, perhaps even the keystone. In the first 3 films, the gangster is dangerous and enticing, but avoidable. In The Wolf of Wall Street, he's coldcalling to hustle you at home.

2) Has Scorsese gotten his proper due for what he's done with digital filmmaking, specifically CGI, over his last 3 narrative films? Between Shutter Island, Hugo, and now The Wolf of Wall Street, he's turned the disadvantages of CGI into an integral part of his narratives. Shutter Island used digital effects to emphasize the falseness of a constructed reality. Hugo built a Melies wonderland, connecting the fake spectacle of CGI with its roots in early cinema. The Wolf of Wall Street uses it to show us the distance Belfort feels from reality. Sure, if Scorsese had the budget to sink a massive yacht in a squall, he might have, but the limitations, here, become advantages.

3) It's interesting that The Wolf of Wall Street has gotten so much flack for glorifying Belfort's lifestyle while American Hustle has gotten so little. American Hustle gives us a conman making an FBI agent who wants to catch corrupt politicians and gangsters look like an ass. And Jeremy Renner's character, one of those corrupt politicians, comes out looking like a saint. Some may see The Wolf of Wall Street and think "I want that;" the life it portrays is by its very nature, enticing. That's the way it works, and it's impossible to portray it accurately without showing how a charismatic gangster like Belfort can suck a unsuspecting dummy into a world of glamor and money. The film, though, shows us just how empty and destructive that life can be. Seems like a lot of people have bought one film's Clay Davis routine while calling out another for pulling back the curtain.

4) I haven't really fully formed this thought, but I think one of the more interesting things The Wolf of Wall Street does is use techniques cribbed from the current slew of dumb party comedies like The Hangover and Project X. It made me think of Yvonne Rainer's response to the idea of using the master's tools to destroy his house: to paraphrase "You can if you expose the tools"

5) The scene between Belfort and Naomi's aunt on the bench is one of the crucial points in the film, especially so soon after we see him more or less sexually assault two flight attendants when he's on qualudes.

6) The last shot, referencing The Crowd, is almost as good as "He is dancing, dancing, he says that he will never die," as far as great last moments in narrative works of art go.

OK, that was 6. Sorry.

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