My wife and I went to see The Wolf of Wall Street, the new film directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, last week. While I have great respect for both Scorsese and DiCaprio, as artists, I found the film disappointing.
I’ve looked at the reviews in the main London newspapers. The Daily Telegraph, the Independent and The Guardian all gave it good reviews, although The Guardian said, “The Wolf of Wall Street does not quite have the subtlety and richness of Scorsese’s very best work, but what an incredibly exhilarating film: a deafening and sustained howl of depravity.” It is definitely is a deafening and sustained howl of depravity, and doesn’t have the subtlety and richness of Scorsese’s best work. I think that for me, the problem was that I didn’t find it ‘incredibly exhilarating’. The Wall Street Journal was somewhat more ambivalent, saying: “The film may well prove profitable: Lurid outlaws are always appealing, and there’s pleasure to be had in the downfall of slimeballs. But ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ demands a huge investment of time for a paltry return.”
There is a comment in my last post: “Moral lessons don’t belong in a good novel. They can be part of a novel, but if that’s the focus, I put the novel down and read the scriptures.” Of course, in this case we’re talking about a film, rather than a novel, but I think the comment is still valid. One might well question whether a moral lesson is the focus of The Wolf of Wall Street, since DiCaprio’s character never shows a jot of remorse, and the focus is clearly on the depravity. The character does end up in prison, but this seems to be more the result of bad behaviour, rather than any sort of moral judgement.
Several reviews take the position that the film is hilarious in its excess. There is plenty of excess in addition to its three hours length: excessive drug taking (if this were real, the main characters would be dead within the first half hour), excessive swearing (the f-word seemed to be the adjective of choice), excessive group sex with hoards of naked women; and an excessively large trading room (densely packed and the size of a football pitch – if this were real, the company would have swallowed up all its competitors). I didn’t find any of these excesses amusing. I like naked women, but not so many at one time that no one can be appreciated. And, I like sex, but for me it’s best as a one-to-one, mutually-enjoyable activity for consenting adults, not a crazed, grope-and-get activity. So, I didn’t find any of these excesses funny; sorry, I thought they were rather sad.
When I left the theatre, I thought, “What was the point of that?” Was it supposed to be a comedy? If so, it wasn’t particularly funny, and even if I have a warped sense of humour, isn’t Scorsese capable of something better than a comedy? Was it supposed to be a commentary on the excesses in America and the financial sector, in particular? What was newsworthy or interesting in displaying those excesses? Was it supposed to be a morality tale? It wasn’t really pitched that way, and if it had been, who would have liked it? I think it was just supposed to be a romp – a film about a bigger, more ‘grown-up’, less-supervised, fraternity party.
I have to say that the acting and the directing were superb. The characters were all very real. Too bad I didn’t like any of them!