Joe Zappulla’s review published on Letterboxd:
"The world of investing can be a jungle. Bulls. Bears. Danger at every turn."
With the Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorsese comes the closest he's been to the Glory Days since Goodfellas, and how does he do that? By doing exactly what he does best: A true story singular character piece with a rise and fall arc about a successful person corrupted by animalistic desires. Sounds familiar. Here's a hint, the other one has an animal in the name too. It's Raging Bull. The Wolf of Wall Street is raging bull drawn out for three hours, and in place of beautifully orchestrated fight sequences both in the ring and at home is a barrage of debauchery and parties, enough even to make the most tolerant addict overdose. That doesn't mean I don't like the movie, I really like it. It's a film full of talent, a scathing satire and dark comedy, but by comparing it to its structural predecessor it seems as vapid as the characters it portrays.
The three hour runtime is daunting, and it has a key distinction from a majority of other film epics, it's character focus. Many of my favorite 3 hour plus movies have a wider focus in terms of characters: Magnolia, Short Cuts, Love Exposure, I guess Lord of the Rings would work too. That's not to say a singular character study can't support itself in that time slot, look at Barry Lyndon, or Blue is the Warmest Color. But the Wolf of Wall Street doesn't have that much narrative or character depth to spread out over that time and it becomes an onslaught of party scenes to tell us what we already know about Jordan. He likes drugs, women and money. That can be told in a single montage. But it does have an excuse for it, an excuse that has always been in my head and I am still not sure if it can forgive the entirety of the length, but it does make sense. It's a movie that deals with excess, excessively. Maybe the point is that we are supposed to feel like Jordan, becoming numb to all of the drug fueled havoc because we have seen it so much. We are supposed to adjust to it as he has. That makes sense to me, I just don't know how well it works personally. Plus there are attempted jokes and segments throughout the film that just don't fit and stick out like a sore thumb, like the two scenes where there is a mental conversation between two characters. While it's interesting and experimental, it doesn't mesh very well. The pacing isn't a problem in the film, it doesn't have a second to rest between spurts of cocaine and sex. It goes by fast, but it's like one of Jordan's sports cars speeding around in circles, seeing the same buildings again and again as you zoom by. Sure it's exciting but I would at least like to see some other things, plus I'm getting dizzy.
Something I really like and find interesting about the character study of Jordan is that he doesn't just have one fatal flaw, but every single one. Greed, Hubris, Lust, Pride, Rage, you name it, he has it. It becomes a smorgasbord of vices like a quaalude cocktail, sure to get the person good and fucked up. He is not as basic of an animal as Jake LaMotta, which is different, and it allows for a unique viewing experience from Raging Bull, but even though Raging Bull has a more narrow character in terms of traits, it is so much more complex in its execution. The Wolf of Wall Street goes nuts with its character just like it does with its narrative and its scenes and its pacing, which is not a bad thing, that's what the movie is about. Excess.
Of course it's a Scorsese movie so production quality is top of the line. Thelma Schoonmaker's editing is wonderful, contrasting the fast pace of the lives of Stock Brokers with slow motion. Leo gives a performance unlike his others with pure fervor and an attitude that was game for any physical comedy. There is no doubt that this is a well made film, but as I dive into other Scorsese's movies I find hidden subtleties that give the movies a added layer of depth and perfection, but upon revisiting The Wolf of Wall Street (which used to be one of my favorites of his) I am finding that there is not as much there, a film of glamour and splendor with not as much substance underneath, just like the lives of the stock brokers. Maybe that's the point and what Scorsese was trying to achieve. Either way, the more I watch this film the more tolerance I build to the effects it, and I am finding myself coming down from the energetic high I felt the first time I saw it.
P.S I feel like I'm being too much of a stickler. I still really like it. It's still in my Top 100, probably for that exquisite Lemmon scene.