The Wolf of Wall Street

Some kind of fevered masturbatory fantasy rather than something with anything of value to say

Some kind of fevered masturbatory fantasy rather than something with anything of value to say

The greatest opening line to a movie comes from Goodfellas:

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster

It sets the scene, it draws you into the journey of how Henry Hill became a gangster and then how it destroyed him. The opening line to The Wolf of Wall Street might as well be “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be rich”. It’s only a small change but it makes the world of difference. Martin Scorsese seemingly wants to do for Wall Street bankers what he did for the Mafia by filming the story of Jordan Belfort, a self-made Wall Street multi-millionaire who rode the wave all the way to the top and then couldn’t let go, destroying himself in the process. Only he’s not quite as destroyed as many of us might hope.

The film is problematic in many ways, but the first thing to say is that Wolf is a very funny film. Funnier than anything Scorsese has done for some time, and certainly the funniest performance of Di Caprio’s career, including some brilliant physical comedy, something of which I didn’t think him capable. Also, at three hours long, the film does not feel anywhere near as blaoted as one might fear. It rips along at a rare old pace and doesn’t really give you a chance to draw breath. But all of that leads to the however…

However, if Goodfellas is the equivalent of a big fat juicy steak meal (says the vegetarian), something that leaves you full and satisfied, Wolf is something else entirely. It’s full of empty calories. It’ll make you feel sick, it’ll make you fat, it’ll do nothing good for you. Here’s the thing. The film depicts the debauchery that was (is?) common-place amongst Wall Street traders. It is full of sex and drugs and drink and wasted money. It is life turned up not to 11 but 12. It is the thing we (hopefully) would hate to become were we living in a world of unlimited resources.

The better poster. The one that has some art behind it. Less representative of the film though, given it has some art about it.

The better poster. The one that has some art behind it. Less representative of the film though, given it has some art about it.

But the problem is that the film isn’t just depicting these things, it is these things.

The film is packed with nudity but it crosses the line between artistic merit and pornographic excess. Is there a justification for the lengths it goes to? I can’t see one. Likewise, there’s no equality. There’s a difference between portraying misogyny and being misogynistic and The Wolf of Wall Street crosses the line into the latter category. The women are treated pretty abysmally throughout and, ultimately, it comes across as leering and masturbatory. At times one can’t help visualising the other side of the camera as a 71 year old man asks a bunch of naked 20-somethings to do his bidding and it’s not exactly comfortable. This may be a representation of the behaviour that carried on with these people but we got that message in the first half hour. The constant repetition is unnecessary – the very definition of pornography, no? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-nudity in films and neither am I anti-pornography per se, but in this context it is unnecessary and uncomfortable. There needs to be some kind of authorial voice or something.

So The Wolf of Wall Street is a film that was enjoyable, though bloated, but the longer you reflect on it the worse it becomes. A leering and seedy exercise that unfortunately bears a resemblance to the worst of Michael Bay’s “fucking the camera” extremes.

D+

Film Length: 2 hours 59 minutes – Feels like: 2 hours 30 minutes

Lovelace

Amanda Seyfried stars as Deep Throat, the anonymous source behind the Watergate scandal.

Amanda Seyfried stars as Deep Throat, the anonymous source behind the Watergate scandal.

The problem with many biopics is that the stories they are trying to tell don’t tend to fit in appropriately with traditional cinematic narrative conventions. This means that a lot of them end up essentially being a lot of recreations of the events that occurred without ever really getting under the skin of the characters or asking why the events came to pass. Lovelace is one such film.

Linda Lovelace, for those not in the know, was the star of the infamous pornographic film Deep Throat in the early 1970s, having been bullied and coerced into making it. The film was made for a pittance and made millions of dollars at the box office while Lovelace was paid just $1000 for her starring role.

The film’s opening is quite disarming as Linda Boreman (Amanda Seyfried – Lovelace was a screen-name used for the film) meets the charming Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), eventually to be her husband, and rushes through a whirlwind romance and everything seems to be coming up puppydogs and icecream. When Chuck suffers money problems he tries to convince some porn film-making friends that Boreman should star in their next production. They’re unconvinced until he shows them a film of her (apparently) unique talents. Linda’s views on the job opportunity are not requested.

We then cut forward to the shoot and Boreman shows little to no reluctance in fulfilling her role until, that is, the film performs the editing equivalent of a double take that should probably be accompanied by a record scratch sound effect and we shoot back in time to have the abuse Boreman has been subject to revealed to us.

I’m not sure of the point of this narrative technique. It seems that the film-makers think they are pulling the rug out from under us, as though we in the audience were all sat there safe in the knowledge that a career in pornography is much akin to a secretarial role but NO – this woman, and many like her, are abused and coerced into making the films. Ultimately, all this trick serves to do is stall the narrative as we return to scenes we’ve previously seen, with the added twist of domestic violence.

At no point do we actually get to understand these people. Traynor is an abuser who sees his woman as a way to make money, be it through her starring role or through pimping her out on the back of her reputation, and that’s just the way he is. There is no attempt to cast him in anything but this one dimensional view.

Equally, Boreman is a woman who has little to no agency in her story, seemingly happy (or unhappy) to follow whatever course is laid out for her, and even her eventual escape from her role is thanks to Deep Throat’s producer protecting her from her husband. We never learn who she is as a woman or what makes her tick. The most interesting part of her journey, and perhaps the most courageous, is her reinvention as a ‘normal’ wife and mother but this is left tacked on at the end.

Ultimately you come away from the film feeling like you’ve seen the “what”, but you’ve not been enlightened as to the “who”, the “how” or the “why”, beyond some very basic answers.

Finally, it’s worth noting that Sharon Stone is wasted in the role of Boreman’s mother, trying to protect her daughter from her own fate (or worse), or losing much of her life due to early motherhood. Stone’s casting seems like a stunt – a woman once renowned for the sex appeal and skin she brought to the screen now portraying a woman railing against exactly that – and the interesting stuff is pushed to the side. Much like the rest of the film.

D

Film length: 1hr 32 minutes – Feels like: 1hr 50 minutes