A Wolf at the Door

Bam! Got one more in before the big ceremony! First, I have a confession to make. Though Martin Scorsese is considered a master of the craft, I've been getting increasingly wary of his recent movies, which may as well all be titled: Good Concept, Forty Minutes Too Long. I remember sort of liking The Aviator at the time, but my feelings since have curdled into just the memory of its interminable length. Hugo did wonderful things with the history of cinema, but bloated the whole thing with the adventures of a scamp who lives in a train station. In addition to the whole Scorsese thing, I've never been as big a fan of Leonardo DiCaprio as others. I don't dislike him, but I've never seen him disappear into a role. He radiates visible Acting Technique at all times. So, when I heard The Wolf of Wall Street was a three-hour film with DiCaprio in pretty much every scene, I was...not terribly excited about it.

But when a friend mentioned she was going to go catch a screening and asked if I wanted to come along, I went ahead and took the plunge. The movie has been getting such great word of mouth, I figured I didn't have a lot to lose. Well, I don't know how my future self will look back on this experience, but 2014 me thinks it was pretty good. Yes, it could still easily be titled Good Concept, Forty Minutes Too Long. But there are things that stand out that never have before.

Leonardo DiCaprio was the biggest surprise. He plays Jordan Belfort, the Wall Street stockbroker who made millions through fraudulent stock sales, then got busted. The movie charts Belfort's rise and fall, and for the first time ever, DiCaprio nails it. He nails it! I completely believed him in every scene, and I don't know that he'll ever turn in a better performance than he does in this. He's scary and funny and charming, and you can easily see how people were persuaded into following him down into the ooze.

Jonah Hill is also nominated for this movie as DiCaprio's right-hand man, and I'm sorry, but no. He's perfectly capable, but doesn't do anything particularly noteworthy with the role. Of course, I said that about Helen Hunt too, and, well... Stay tuned for that Award Repo.

The other thing that I found bemusing was the line between celebration and condemnation of the lifestyle Belfort leads, and the things he's willing to do to maintain it. Ostensibly, the movie skewers the moral decrepitude of the one-percenters who don't care who gets hurt as long as the money is rolling in. But it also lovingly frames the parties and the perks of being a rich guy. It's on the verge of excusing the stockbrokers who drain the life savings of everyday people, because hey, those people got greedy, too, and who wouldn't want to live like a king?

There is one scene in the movie wherein a woman is paid handsomely to shave her head for the entertainment of the company. And the camera lingers. "Isn't this awful?" it seems to ask. This woman sold her dignity for a few bucks, and it speaks to the cruelty and disdain the wealthy have for the plebeians. But... This was an actress who was paid handsomely to shave her head for the entertainment of the movie's audience. And the camera lingers. So who's really being sympathized with?

I enjoyed this movie more than the other ones Scorsese has put out lately. And I'm glad I finally got to see Leonardo DiCaprio hit a performance out of the park. But as far as the chatter that this movie deserves a bunch of Oscar gold goes, that needs to be shut down like Lehman Brothers.

The Wolf of Wall Street: B


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