Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street: My take on the movie ... Blame it on Belfort



Blame it on Belfort. At once shocking and hilarious, the high octane The Wolf of Wall Street is also disturbing. I can't tell you how many times MLH and I turned to each other, mouths wide open. And we live in Hollywood, where we think we've seen it all. As wild and crazy as the trailers were, I was expecting a more sober look at the rise and fall and rise again of Jordan Belfort?  

DiCaprio portrays the broker with a vengeance, going from the fresh-faced eager beaver learning the ropes from wall street wizard Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) to a wild-eyed balls-to-the-walls money mogul himself. 


At almost forty, Leo pulls off the youthful vibe while the chest-thumping McConaughey, with just four years on Leo, but still looking frightfully thin here from his Dallas Buyers Club film, seems like the crazy old veteran who has seen it all.


Jonah Hill proves yet again that Moneyball was no fluke; rocking big fake teeth, oversized tortoise shell framed glasses and a penchant for sweaters draped preppily around his shoulders, Hill as composite character Donnie Azoff, pushes the envelope on big, brash bad boy behavior. 


Is there anything Azoff won't do? Not in this movie. Is there anything Hill won't do? Doubtful, and that huge, out there attitude has him absolutely owning this part. Awards, schmwards but it's little wonder Hill is getting lots of attention. 


The common criticism of the film is that all the excesses - Scorsese's copious use of the f-bomb (setting the all time record at 506), the copious use of drugs, prostitutes, drugs on the butts of prostitutes, full frontal nudity, the disturbing display of Jonah Hill's genitalia (probably a prosthetic), the tossing of midgets and the celebration of money, money, money - glorifies the immoral conduct of Belfort and his cohorts.

Does this look like a glorification of excess to you?

The complaint should be leveled at American society, not Scorsese. Scorsese didn't come up with the scenario; the story in all its' sordid glory came from Belfort's own book about his rise, fall and rise again.The director didn't fail to indict Jordan Belfort severely enough, we did. We're the ones who sentenced this morally bankrupt crook to 20 months in a minimum security prison. Because we love money. We worship it. And we worship those who have it. I know this is no surprise to you but so many of us really believe money is the secret to happiness, we inhale get rich schemes like Belfort snorted cocaine. The rich really ARE different from you and me. They get away with crazy crap. Which is why watching Belfort play tennis in the prison where rich white men go to pay for their white collar crimes literally made me queasy. "I'd forgotten I was rich" he tells us smiling; now that's a scene you can blame Scorsese for, the director making sure we see how little Belfort had to pay for his sins. 


While he's mined it to great effect here, the director isn't celebrating Belfort's success and excesses. He's holding a mirror up and showing us ourselves. We don't have to be like the rapt group of seminar attendees Scorsese shows us flocking around Belfort, lapping up his precious words after he's served his time in prison and begun his new career as a speaker and trainer of young 'entrepreneurs'. But we probably are. 

The Wolf of Wall Street cast includes suave Jean Dujardin, as a sleazy Swiss banker, Rob Reiner as Belfort's disapproving dad, and Margot Robbie as his wife. Would have loved to see more Kyle Chandler as the federal agent.



Now a technical question. Back in October in my snappily titled post Second Trailer features Leo, and Lines and Squares, Oh My! (oh yes, I am that corny) I noticed a whole lot of, well, lines and squares. DiCaprio et al are constantly shot against a backdrop of frames, square window panels, rectangular boxes, even lines mimicked in their wardrobe of striped and checked shirts. It all feels very deliberate, and in that pre-release post I pondered whether the lines served to frame and box the characters in, emphasizing the emptiness of their lifestyle. I do think the film does that contextually.
3/2/2014 Another thought I've just had is that the background, all very neat and tidy, serves to frame the chaotic action so we're able to focus on the debauchery and insane choices of the character, against a clean, uncluttered background that won't overly distract us. 
I'd be interested to hear if the production design intentionally followed form or if I've fabricated the whole thing. Mens shirts, after all, were are still primarily solid, striped or checked. Am I making something of nothing? 



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