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

This Is The End

Which Hollywood 'comedians' would you most like to see die? If you answered Adam Sandler, Vince Caughan or Owen Wilson, you're out of luck.

Which Hollywood ‘comedians’ would you most like to see die? If you answered Adam Sandler, Vince Caughan or Owen Wilson, you’re out of luck.

This Is The End is a strange beast. Definitely funny enough to be worth seeing, it still suffers from the kind of over-indulgence that can plague this kind of project – one that could easily be labelled ‘vanity’.

So, the story. Jay Baruchel comes to LA to spend time with his old friend Seth Rogan (yes – everyone is playing themselves). Jay feels like he and his buddy have been drifting apart since Rogan started making it big so is giving the friendship one last shot before writing it off. His plans are ruined when Seth wants to go to James Franco’s housewarming. Jay’s wary of all the fake new Hollywood friends and fears Rogan will hang with them rather than him. When his fears start to become reality he heads out to buy some cigarettes. Rogan catches him on the way out and they go together. While at the store, the Rapture begins, featuring an earthquake and those who have lived good lives being beamed up into heaven. Rogan misses the latter and so can’t corroborate Jay’s story when they get back to Franco’s, making him sound crazy and further setting him apart from all of Franco’s friends.

Things unfold and we’re left with a gang of 6 (Rogan, Baruchel, Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride, plus a short cameo from Emma Watson) holed up in Franco’s house as the world outside burns.

There are a couple of questions that come out of all this, the first of which I have already answered to an extent – is it funny? Yes, it is. It has more than enough laugh-out-loud moments to justify seeing the film. The second question is whether or not it can justify using the actors to play themselves, and this is a much greyer area. There are two moments which justify this, and both are cameos rather than featuring members of the central cast. The coked-up, self-centred version of Michael Cera is very funny indeed, but the stand-out is Emma Watson, playing her role completely straight and proving herself to be much funnier than the men surrounding her.

Outside of those two, though, I’m not sure the conceit really offers much to the film. With a bit of tweaking, the same script would have worked just as well (if not better) with actors playing roles rather than themselves. Because they’re not quite famous enough for us to know much about their lives outside of their films, they end up with only minor riffs on what’s gone before. The funniest moments for the group are around simple arguments over the passing around of a loaded gun or Danny McBride’s usage of one of Franco’s magazines. These riffs could be done with any characters in any circumstances rather than springing organically from the characters and situations specifically in this movie. Compare, for example, the humour in Shaun of the Dead, where almost every joke comes about specifically because of the characters involved. It’s almost as if the ‘playing themselves’ conceit came about because it made it easier than having to create actual characters for everyone to play.

When the script falls back on either pot-smoking or dick jokes it tends to fall a bit flat as these have been done better in plenty of other places. It’s as though these are a safety net to rely on when there’s nothing to carry the story through to the next plot point.

Finally, I am always wary when a comedy film uses expensive special effects. Yes, they are justified in some cutaways to seeing LA burn, but the biggest effects are saved for a giant devil character roaming the streets, giant penis freely swinging around, which seems to be a fairly large waste of money.

All of that said, I will reiterate that this is still a funny film and worth your time.

B

Running Time: 1hr 47mins – Feels Like: 1hr 47mins