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David Poland

By David Poland

Review: The Wolf of Wall Street (spoiler-free)


Veronica Lake could certainly have been Margot Robbie, drinking with a straw to keep her lipstick perfect, saying “We aren’t gonna be friends,” and then sucking in her prey by giving him what he can’t imagine a way to get.

Even in 1944, Trudy Kockenlocker—say the name again in your head—was the girl in the office who was with so many that no one could keep track.

Jonah Hill would fit right in with the Ale & Quail Hunting Club (as seen in The Palm Beach Story).

This film isn’t “an Ionescoesque tour-de-force” or “compelling diagnosis of the terminal pathology that afflicts us” or “taking cues from gangster pictures.”

It’s a freakin’ Preston Sturges movie set in the early 1990s which morphs into being a Billy Wilder movie set in the mid-90s and is, finally, a pure Martin Scorsese movie in the late 90s.

Actually, the film may be all of the things I mention above, written by critics who, in my opinion, are taking the film too seriously because it’s been made by Scorsese. They seem to be looking at it as a classic Scorsese movie. But it’s clearly not… any more than Cape Fear was. It’s homage, redefined by 50 years of evolved bad behavior. And it’s not one clear, defined homage. Each act brings a quite different voice.

The first act is the wacky comedy of an ambitious con man who really doesn’t have any fear. It’s sheer joy. And the character spectrum is pure Sturges. True, it’s also reflective of the voiced-over lug line-up in Goodfellas at moments. But the tone is different. Those guys are established members of the community into which Henry Hill is growing. For Jordan Belfort, they are a bumbling group of idiots who will all rely on and follow him.

Scene after scene, it’s gags without consequence. There is a charm in Belfort’s blind relentlessness. Grown people having sex and doing drugs is hard to see as childlike… but really, that is what the movie is. The sexuality is so childish that it’s hard to read it any other way, however disgusting. And yes, that has pushed a number of people away from the film.

I get it. I do. The “bad behaver” is front and center and in your face… way too appealing for anyone’s own good.

But then I refer back to Sturges, 60 years ago. Nowadays an unattached woman pregnant and unsure of who the father is seems like reasonable fodder for a comedy. In 1944, many years before Lucy & Ricky slept in separate beds and couldn’t use the word “pregnant,” it was as controversial a comedy premise as Wolf is today. Two sets of twins romantically co-mingling? A returning war flop pretending to be a hero, deceiving his community to his own benefit, and being the protagonist?

What Sturges really did was to pervert Capra. He made movies about the American Dream, turned on their side and shaken until funny. His characters did real damage. The side characters were gamblers and screw-ups and victims waiting to happen and thugs who may or may not be mart enough to roll them.

Add cocaine, Quaaludes, and modern Wall Street ideas of financial greed and mostly paid-for promiscuity, and you have the first act of Wolf.

Many of those who are dismissing the film seem to have stopped considering what Scorsese & Co were up for at that point. But if the disconnect didn’t happen in the lavish joy of grotesquerie in the 1st act, I think those same people would find the moral comeuppance in the third act… the Scorsese act… which is really not funny at all. That said, there is a distinct shift in tone in the 2nd act, once Belfort has acquired his dream.

That is when the film becomes a Billy Wilder movie. And not just a Wilder comedy. The difference between the two filmmakers, who share a lot, is that Wilder wasn’t big on youthful ambition. His characters almost always knew exactly what they were doing. Joe Gillis, Chuck Tatum, Walter Neff, The Larrabee Brothers… they were all hip to the room. There was real edge. They didn’t make mistakes of enthusiasm. They just ran into the unexpected. Even Wilder’s house “innocent,” Jack Lemmon, was in his mid-30s when it started in Some Like It Hot. He wasn’t innocent. He chose naïveté in the Wilder roles. C.C. Baxter is “the good guy” in The Apartment, but he’s not really a good guy. He’s the better guy, with potential for becoming good.

Act Two of The Wolf of Wall Street is about a guy who, while still pretty young, knows the turf and has a lot to lose. There is none of the youthful, “innocent” aggression of the first act. There is still terrible, terrible behavior. But everyone is now working on maintaining… and maintaining still inspires fierce ambition.

It’s during the second act that the shady turns into clear illegality. It’s during the second act when the characters around Jordan Belfort start coming up with plans of their own. It’s during the second act when our protagonist really acquires his antagonist.

Who but the man who put Marilyn Monroe on the grate would have his female lead, legs spread, panties off, torturing her husband with the power of her sex only to turn the tables in an instant? Who would be better in a scene like the conversation between Belfort and his FBI tormentor than young, strapping William Holden? What other writer/director would have the distance to take characters from thinking they are living the American Dream to cursing their country?

And then… the third act. The Scorsese act.

I’d say it starts when he and his group leave the United States. There are still laughs, but most of them are rolling with the previous 2 hours 15 minutes of comedy. And that slowly dissolves. I don’t want to spoil anything, but as events continue, the audience may think they are experiencing something meant to be funny… but the film gets more and more brutal… more and more like Scorsese’s dramas.

The performances are pretty spectacular. Leonardo DiCaprio is fearless in this film. Each person will decide if this is to their taste, but one has to make these performance shifts with Scorsese and screenwriter Terrence Winters’ shifts. It’s easy to not realize just how much he is doing. Jonah Hill has a little bit less range to cover, but wow… what a performance. And not as Jonah Hill. This is a fully formed character who is not just Jonah, who is a very funny guy. He breathes Donnie. Margot Robbie is impeccable.

Matthew McConaughey gives the next great Alec Baldwin-in-Glengarry performance. Just magnificent. Poetic. Brilliantly comedic. And horrifyingly honest. If you want to know if Wolf can win Best Picture at the Oscars, look and see whether Matthew McConaughey gets a shock nomination for his 5-minute role. It would be deserved… and would make it 100% clear how onboard the actors are. It could happen.

This is about the least complex or breakthrough piece of film editing from Scorsese and Schoonmaker in a while. This was one of the puzzles for me as a viewer. Why wasn’t it more “clever?” I think the truth is that the film’s homage simply didn’t leave room for it. Both Wilder and Sturges were straightforward as directors when it came to the editing. Scorsese relied more on his cameraman, the great Rodrigo Prieto, than on post this time out. His shooters have always made beautiful images with him, don’t get me wrong. But a lot of more of this film felt like it was “just” cut out of the camera than most.

I do not carry the animosity that some seem to about people who do not connect with this movie. And I’m not ready to call it the greatest film since whenever. The conversation about what a film like this means when it isn’t a rom-com or a dramatic thriller is just starting. And I don’t know that this film is “IMPORTANT.” I love “The Sopranos,” but don’t see it as “IMPORTANT” either. I’m not sure that any Scorsese movie will ever be important, except, really, for Taxi Driver, which still stands as one of the great pieces on the soul of men who act out in the world. I learn from that film, almost more so from the pieces that I have never completely rationalized, but only feel.

But as the whole film laid out before me in my most recent viewing, and the extreme moments jumped out at me less aggressively, I quite loved the ride.

And one last note. Quaaludes were made illegal in the United States in the 80s. This movie takes place in the 90s. And I don’t really care.

SIDE NOTE: It’s taken me a while to get to this sense of the film. I saw the film 3 times before I clicked in, but it’s not quite what it sounds like.

I returned to Los Angeles from Morocco a few weeks ago—a 32-hour trip, as it turned out—and the first thing I wanted to do after seeing my wife and child was to see The Wolf of Wall Street. So I did one night. And my jetlag caused me to fade in and out a bit. So I went again. And even at an afternoon screening, I could not stay awake. I did not blame the film at all. I was just waking up at 4am and my body clock was to blame.

Anyway… I explain all this because it is misleading when I say that I became clear on the film after 3 viewings. But it would also be misleading to not acknowledge the earlier viewings which perhaps softened some of the things that are upsetting some people.

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37 Responses to “Review: The Wolf of Wall Street (spoiler-free)”

  1. leahnz says:

    “And one last note. Quaaludes were made illegal in the United States in the 80s. This movie takes place in the 90s. And I don’t really care.”

    oh shit it’s just on dawned on me this could be deemed SPOILERY so ETA a space…

    fwiw i don’t think that matters in the context of the movie because a point is made when Jordan and donnie are dropping the ‘ludes to no effect and then taking more because they don’t feel anything that the ‘lemmons’ were old, with an expiry date of 1981 (i think – that’s the year sticking in my head anyway, not positive that’s right) but anyway clearly they’re meant to be an old stash and not some new prescription, so not a ‘flaw’ per se (also far and away the best part of the movie, i’ll just record that bit on disk or something and watch it happily. like spicoli says, ‘people on ‘ludes should not drive!’)

  2. LexG says:

    Anyone who doesn’t love and WORSHIP this movie and HERO GOD LORD KING BELFORT should be BANNED from seeing ALL OTHER MOVIES for ALL ETERNITY.

    Best movie since 1997, EVERY SECOND OF IT is a MISSION STATEMENT on the life YOU want, contrasted with the INSANELY DEPRESSING Kyle Chandler victory lap and BRUTAL, perfect last shot, which is the life we ALL live.

  3. Monco says:

    I was shocked by how much I loathed this movie. I think it is an utter mess. Off the top of my head this is the third film this year by a major director has examined the current state of extreme sexuality and greed that is in our culture now: Bling Ring, Spring Breakers and now Wolf of Wall Street. Bling Ring is by far the best in my opinion. The other two are ultimately meaningless. You could have ended this movie after the McConaughey scene. The rest of the movie is pointless.

  4. QG says:

    Jesus, I thought Lex was dead.

  5. KFR says:

    Absolutely THE most Awful film I have seen All year.
    No redeeming value, not much story line – just replays of unmemorable depraved stupid conversations and unmitigated self serving, ugly scenes ( even the one or two which the director tried to ‘dress up’).
    I Am totally shocked that DiCaprio wouldl take a role or have Anything to do with such a Low Grade production.. He must have owed some kind of debt to someone Or is very desperate or drunk with his own self worth(?) working the self aggrandizement (?? ) This was not a good choice for him.

  6. LexG says:

    ^ Nice writing. Jesus.

  7. Joe Leydon says:

    As I have posted elsewhere: Thank God the pinheads who are complaining that Scorsese doesn’t sufficiently “condemn” Jordan Belfort weren’t around to review Taxi Driver back in the day. When I reviewed that one for the The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi — my first full-time newspaper gig — the only negative feedback I got was from an editor who saw the movie with his wife and told me she freaked out because of the violence. (He, on the other hand, noted that he thought Jodie Foster was “a cute little thing.”)

  8. lazarus says:

    Didn’t know we had members of the Pearl-Clutching Brigade frequenting The Hot Blog.

    Sad, really.

    Looks like KFR’s 547th viewing of Titanic is going to have a little less magic than the last time.

  9. leahnz says:

    what’s the deal with the apparent need of those who dig Wows to seemingly impugn the intelligence of those who are critical of it, rather than just, you know, agree to disagree about what is, after all, subjective individual opinion? (and in terms of subtlety and subtext re morality and violence in our culture, ‘taxi driver’ makes Wows look like a looney tunes cartoon – eta for weird spell check correction i didn’t notice)

  10. christian says:

    Our Binary World. You’re either with it or against it.

  11. Joe Leydon says:

    Leah: I wasn’t referring to you. I was referring to the other pinheads. [Ducks, places hands over head.] Look, if you dislike the film, and are critical of it, and it doesn’t work for you as art or entertainment, hey, that’s your business. As they say at the end of mass, go in peace and serve the Lord. But people who are claiming that Scorsese should have somehow been more “critical” of Belfort are, I think, missing the point. I think it was Chekhov who once said, in so many words, if you need the artist to actually state that the bad behavior he’s depicting really is bad behavior — well, may you don’t understand the role of the artist. It’s like, I’m going to go way out on a limb here and assume Peter Jackson didn’t want us to view the young women in Heavenly Creatures to be role models.

  12. lazarus says:

    Since Leah posted right after me, I’m going to assume that was at least partially directed my way.

    Not liking a movie is one thing. Stuff like calling DiCaprio “desperate or drunk with his own self worth” and saying the film has “no redeeming value” is totally over the top and worthy of as much scorn as possible. These people are the same ones who probably cheered on the picketers against The Last Temptation Of Christ.

  13. pj says:

    Yup, there are definitely 3 acts and it seems that all the praise is laid on the first without examining the consequences of the last, opening the film up to attacks. Me, I thought it was alright. Not worth watching again since I got the “message” the first time.

  14. leahnz says:

    fwiw i actually didn’t see your comment lazarus before posting mine — and my comment wasn’t even specifically re joe’s, just doing a bit of reading of the online reactions/commentary on movies, which i often don’t have time to do, and there seems to be quite a bit of pretty blatant dismissal of detractors of Wows as less than bright people — which seems pretty silly considering the clearly intentionally controversial, obnoxious way Scorsese has chosen to present Belfort’s story. freedom of speech is a bitch i guess, from all angles. but if there’s ‘pearl-clutching’ going on re: Wows, i’d say the OTT reaction of supporters/fans to criticism of a film that is clearly meant to provoke blunt instrument controversy is every bit as pearl-clutch-y as detractors at this point, just for different reasons.

    i’d say that much of the issue with Wows probably boils down to not the fact that Scorsese doesn’t more overtly condemn Belfort, but rather it’s critical of the WAY Scorsese (and dicap really as producer – after reading some stuff i get the feeling more and more that they’re kind of in what i think of as the ‘filmmaker’s delusion’, wherein what they seem to think the movie ‘says’ and what it actually shows are two different things) chose to present Belfort’s account, so utterly dependant on highly-sexualised (and deeply misogynist), puerile male-fantasy imagery and manic one-note frat-boy ‘fun and excitement’ to depict Belfort’s fucked-up lifestyle of greed and self-preservation for the vast majority of the film, the ‘entertainment value’ so absurdly ramped up and coked-out (and pandering so laughably – in the worst possible, non-ironic way – to men) with little (or no) attempt at nuance or subtext to explore anything below the surface in Belfort’s life, largely choosing ‘caracature’ over characters, with the charming robber sociopath reinventing himself for the start of a whole new era of selling what amounts to nothing at the end, because capitalism fuck yeah! well gee that’s society, bummer. don’t be a fucking asshole and get caught, those wrist-slaps can smart! deep stuff.

    and since this is all a choice, to play it so surface and ‘outrageously entertaining!’ one-note base male fantasy, deliberately offensive black comedy, is it really suprising people are asking why, why not some texture at least, some much-needed irony, a satirical edge (because Scorsese’s made it very clear he didn’t intend the straight-forward narrative as satire in any way, which explains why it doesn’t contain subtleties necessary for satirical storytelling, most notably see ‘no irony’) or even just an exploration of themes beyond the glaringly obvious… does it think it’s holding up a mirror to society? “you laugh and maybe you’re disgusted by all this, but you helped to create and let this good-time charlie sociopathic swindler thrive because deep down you all want to BE Belfort!”

    pfft, well no i fucking do not, so go fuck yourself Scorsese. or whatever. (and i say this as someone who’s generally a fan of Scorsese and his male-obsessed existential dilemmas, but this one is wide of the mark). the funny thing is i don’t even really dislike the movie intensely – i can’t muster up that kind of enthusiasm, i was mostly just bored by the OTT carnage as it wore on, certainly not compared to a couple of the people i saw it with who really hated it (both dudes). but this ‘you no fun dummies just don’t get it’ campaign is silly, not liking it – for whatever reason – and not getting it are not synonymous, but even having to say that is ridiculous.

    (re heavenly creatures: not sure how the movies compare re people we shouldn’t view as role models Joe, the massive difference being that the characters and lives of Juliet and pauline are thematically complex, presented in a variety of contexts and with subtext involving love in both the socially accepted and taboo forms while examining the way girls were treated and viewed in that time/social construct, along with themes such as class, isolation, lonliness and feeling like you don’t belong, sexual vs mental maturity, fantasy and escapism, even creeping mental illness – and importantly their crime is presented as TRUELY HORRIFYING, we aren’t asked to have a balls-out good time with paul and jules as they veer deeper and deeper into an unstable bond that ultimately culminates in a shocking act of cruelty. but i suggest that we ARE ask to be ‘grossly entertained’ by Belfort’s frat-boy cruelty during his sociopathic crime spree, and i think therein lies the problem for some. clearly anyone who sees Belfort as a role model after seeing Wows is fucked up in the head, but it’s often the journey not the destination and the way Belfort’s journey is presented it’s inviting (let’s face it) men to take vicarious pleasure in Belfort’s debauchery along the way, and i suspect this is what’s disappointing or morally troubling to some. and considering how many fucked up people there are in the world, it’s little wonder that Belfort is being viewed by some as an anti-hero rather than just a low-life scumbag crook)

    holy shit that’s super long. don’t drink and blog.

  15. Chucky says:

    It’s only fitting that the only pullquotes used to advertise this P.O.S. are from Peter Travers, the ubiquitous quote whore and right-wing hack.

    One look at the trailer told me to stay as far away as I can.

  16. David Poland says:

    Kinda amusing to me that all but one of these exchanges – welcome as they are – has nothing to do with the review and the ideas discussed and are almost 100% about each person’s personal opinion, which is well entrenched.

    This is how the discussion of this movie seems to be occurring in most places I have encountered.

  17. chris says:

    Maybe it’s because your response is so personal/specific, DP? I love Sturges — “Palm Beach Story” is my favorite comedy — and I am interested in your idea but I just don’t see it.

  18. Joe Larson says:

    Seriously, how can anyone here let Poland’s comment saying McConaughey’s performance was on the same level as Baldwin’s in GGR stand?

    McConaughey’s performance and character motivation for taking Leo to this tell all lunch on his first day in WOWS is borderline nonsensical. It’s also filled with annoying acting tics that Marty should’ve left on the editing room floor, whereas Baldwin gives a tour-de-force performance that is a pleasure to watch and rewatch. Not a single word is misplaced, it makes complete sense from a character perspective, and Baldwin delivers it perfectly.

  19. YancySkancy says:

    Joe: And McConaughey’s performance makes complete sense from a character perspective, too. He’s a coked-up wack job; Baldwin’s character was not. As I’m sure you know, Dave’s comparison was simply to acknowledge that both performances were attention-grabbing cameos in films about selling. Whether McConaughey’s key scene will prove to be as iconic as Baldwin’s is anybody’s guess, but I thought he was pretty great in it.

  20. Amblinman says:

    “one-note base male fantasy”

    Yes, most of the men I know deep down inside want to ingest metric tons of quaaludes and put their daughters’ skulls through windshields.

    And that’s just the gay dudes!

  21. Joe Larson says:

    That’s the problem. You can write off anything by saying the character was “a coked-up wack job”. The whole device of the lunch and his character seemed like a lazy and “convenient” screenwriting setup to me.

    Check back here in 10 years. McConaughey’s performance will be nothing but a whizzy/wheezy/whaazy footnote.

  22. leahnz says:

    mcconaughey’s lightweight tourettes-y turn in Wows is about as likely to be oscar nom’d as his effort as the boss-man elder stripper in ‘magic mike’ — but i wouldn’t be at all surprised to see his perf as the perennially-full-of-shit-fuckup-but-weirdly-wise-and-endearing ‘mud’ in the movie of the same name nominated, because mcC was pretty freakin’ awesome in that.

    Amblinman i stand by my rambling inebriated Wows blather above but don’t have the desire to continue or defend my position, i don’t give nearly enough of a shit, except to say – and i don’t know what happened to Anghus around here but i’m going to borrow his use of a dictionary definition to make my point, which i’m sure will be annoying:
    adjective: base; comparative adjective: baser,superlative adjective: basest. without moral principles; ignoble.
    “the electorate’s baser instincts of greed and selfishness” synonyms: sordid, improper, low, mean, bad, wrong, evil, wicked, iniquitous, immoral, sinful

    hopefully this reiteration and clarification of the qualifying adjective ‘base’ used in my phrase “one-note base male fantasy” differentiates it from all fantasies that men in general may have, which was my intention; i assumed it was obvious that the rampant use of the ‘hookers & blow’ cliché/stereotype used to convey ‘the ultimate’ of what straight men with money and power are so often shown to aspire to in popular culture/movies is the ‘base male fantasy’ to which i referred, since the cliché is in some form front and centre for about 85% of Wows, but if not then my bad.

  23. Sam says:

    Really enjoyed reading a take on the movie that pulls Sturges and Wilder into the conversation in an informative way. Thanks!

  24. Tuck Pendelton says:

    I saw the film last night, and I don’t know what to make of it. I go back and forth had the film actually been better had they started with McConahey’s lunch speech. It really introduces the character’s motives: get rich, get high, ejaculate. Repeat. But point being it might be a repeat-viewing like Poland suggests to find the rhythm and the chai.

    There are some great scenes and exchanges. And there are some abysmally not-funny, drags on past the point of monotonous scenes as well.

    And sometimes the narration was brilliantly used, other times I frankly thought it was added in post just to explain the action.

    But it’s Scorsese and the energy, the cutting, the performances are all top-notch. So yeah, bit of a head scratcher.

  25. Tuck Pendelton says:

    actually, this is pretty close to where i’m at:

  26. amblinman says:


    Yeah, I understood the use of the word “base” the first time I made fun of it. The complaint is more of a cliche than the cliche it’s supposed to be taking on.

    White guys fucking and doing drugs. I get it. Deep down it’s what we all want. Yeah.

  27. movieman says:

    Really enjoyed reading a take on the movie that pulls Sturges and Wilder into the conversation in an informative way.

    Personally, I think the Sturges and (especially) Wilder comparisons are more apropos to “American Hustle,” Sam.
    I’m a big “WOWS” fan: I ranked it #7 on my 2013 best list.
    But the first half feels a bit like a Scorsese self-homage, and the second half seemed more of an homage to Scorsese mentor John Cassavetes and contemporary Italian arthouse helmers like Paolo Sorrentino.

  28. leahnz says:

    oh good grief, i wasn’t keen to get into this further but i’m constipated and grumpy, so seemingly can’t tolerate the combo of smug and silly.

    “Yeah, I understood the use of the word “base” the first time I made fun of it. The complaint is more of a cliché than the cliche it’s supposed to be taking on. White guys fucking and doing drugs. I get it. Deep down it’s what we all want. Yeah.”

    .. haha wtf, commenting on the un-ironic use of a tired cliché is even more of a cliché? to whom, persnickety morons? if you think Scorsese and leonardcap, in trying to have their cake and eat it too in Wows, haven’t left themselves wide open to perfectly valid criticism in this regard, you’re deluded. maybe you should ask: is it possible to subvert a cliché while gleefully glorifying it? is it possible in the medium of cinema to choose highly sexualised female imagery clearly designed to be provocative, titillating and exciting to the male viewer (and i suppose lesbians who might be into that sort of hetero sex thing, tho i’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that Scorsese didn’t make Wows for counter-intuitive lesbian viewing) and then claim subversion – in this case without making any effort to actually PORTRAY anything to subvert the rampant ‘hookers & blow fuck yeah’ cliché in Belfort’s account?

    this ties into the obvious problem with the equally tired ‘depicting is not the same as condoning!’ argument being bandied about by the ‘stupid people don’t get Wows’ crusaders, because the unique visceral power of cinema is in the use of imagery, and the conscious choice to use titillating, sexually provocative imagery in the (supposed) depiction of gross sexism and misogyny is a singular cinematic tool/statement – because whether or not the ‘message’ of the movie condones misogyny, the power of cinema dictates that portraying misogyny in a sexually exciting and provocative – ie glorifying – way delivers a mixed message, to put it a very basically: “this (fill in the blank thing) ultimately may be wrong but damn isn’t it sexually exciting/provocative? we’ve made sure it is”. rather abhorrent film-making really cloaked in a ‘aren’t we clever’ justification, and why the argument that Wows is misogynist is perfectly valid. this type of thing is often seen/criticised for example in the horror medium, and its use is arguably quite similar in Wows. a film does not have to overtly ‘condone’ misogyny to use it in a glorified fashion, which is a deliberate choice of cinematic tool that’s an inherently double-edged sword. isn’t this basic film studies shit? you’d never know it reading some of the stuff i’ve read, pretty laughable.

  29. YancySkancy says:

    Of course this stuff is entirely subjective, but I didn’t find any of the sex or nudity in this film to be particularly arousing, with the exception of Margot Robbie’s full-frontal appearance in that doorway. Given that most of the sex scenes were of hookers of varying degrees of attractiveness going at it with the likes of Sea Otter and Rugrat, I can’t imagine that Scorsese was attempting to glorify the proceedings. While I agree with leah that “depicting is not condoning” may be a disingenuous argument, I do think it would have been difficult to convey the ongoing debauchery WITHOUT depicting it, or depicting it in a tepid, coy way.

    As for misogyny, I think Scorsese and Winter try to mitigate it in the way they depict the women who are NOT hookers, from the rather sympathetic first Mrs. Belfort to the office manager to the Belfort employee Kimmie to the second Mrs. Belfort, who may be a trophy wife but not an empty-headed one. It doesn’t compensate for the lack of a strong, smart female protagonist, but that’s not this story.

  30. leahnz says:

    well everyone’s take is subjective to be sure, but it’s interesting because i think you could argue the female characters in Wows embody (in some cases quite literally haha) scorsese’s long-suffering ‘madonna-whore complex’ obsession, a simplistic sexist dynamic in itself. you don’t have to have a ‘strong female protagonist’ to at least have female characters that are more than just inert and inconsequential; for example the characterisations of the non-prostitutes/gold-diggers, the ‘good girls’, are from memory rather uniformly ‘plain’/mousey/unattractive – another puerile sexist stereotype – and, apart from the judge perhaps, ineffectual.
    the character of Naomi represents the pinnacle of pandering to a patriarchal sexist stereotype, the manipulative ‘gold-digger’ vixen whose power is depicted as being in her appearance and the wielding of her feminine wiles and willingness to exploit her body to further her worth and position, it doesn’t get much more cliché; no she’s clearly not an idiot but she’s shallow, opportunistic and greedy like jordan, not a sympathetic or complex or fully-formed character to root for (which describes pretty much all the major characters in the movie really) but ————– spoilers ———- when Jordan becomes physically abusive we’re asked to feel for naomi, an easy out for the film-makers who manage to avoid the use of any subtlety or nuance to tell the story, content with the sledgehammer approach.

  31. doug r says:

    Leah, you gotta remember this is told from Belfort’s point of view, it’s not really meant to be a Lifetime morality play.

  32. JS Partisan says:

    It’s definitely the best movie of last year. It’s another Scorcese masterpiece and unlike “American Hustle,” SHIT ACTUALLY HAPPENS! Also, “American Hustle” is what Leah should be pissed off about. That movie is nothing but objectification and madonna/whore characters.

  33. palmtree says:

    I’m so conflicted over this. After all, WALL STREET was also supposed to an indictment of capitalism run amok and yet it became a kind of recruitment video for douchebags. And now WOWS is threatening to do the same. But by not shying away from the subject, is it generating the type of outrage that it was meant to generate and thus get people to be angry about wall street types?

  34. Ray Pride says:

    “Francois Truffaut said it is impossible to make an anti-war film, because films tend to make war look exciting. In general, Truffaut was right.” – Roger Ebert

  35. leahnz says:

    apt quote, ray pride.

    jts i haven’t seen ‘american hustle’ yet, i want to though

    (dougr, fwiw i’m well aware ‘wows’ is based on Belfort’s self-aggrandizing ‘memoire’ – i haven’t read it myself but the first time i watched the screener was with someone who had read Wows so i got a bit of a blow-by-blow; i’d mentioned that before but maybe not in this thread)

    it’s weird, when i watched Wows the first time was at the conclusion of a fucking awesome party and i was in that frame of mind of extreme, uh, jocularity; the second time now and i was sober, and just bored out of my freakin’ skull – leo kind of kept me awake, just barely, for the 9 hours. i felt like Lloyd at the bar in ‘dumb & dumber’ when he says in exasperation, “I DON’T CAAAAAARRRE.” sadly at the end of the day it sounds like what Scorsese thinks he was saying with the story of this – in the greater scheme of Wall Street Wankery – relatively petty little crim’s rise and twinkle-toes fall and rise in terms of meaningful social commentary and what he actually achieves on the screen is two very different things. hey i guess it has got people talking, that’s something in this day and age at any rate.

    on a purely personal note i kinda wish scorsese would stop ‘campaigning’ for/defending the movie, a little surprising, it’s making me cringe (and fucking leo; his video endorsement of the ‘new and improved Belfort’ is nothing short of nauseating, what a backfire, leo sounds like a smug little prick). Scorsese’s an old-school artist, just let your work stand, take your brickbats and bouquets; a lot of people don’t think he achieved what he apparently set out to achieve so when you go on the ‘defensive’ it sounds kind of desperate and beneath him. it’s making me sad.

  36. Marissa Cellinetti says:

    My question is — is this movie doing anything new? At this point, “white Wall Street conmen experience meteoric rise and disgraceful plummet, as accompanied by prostitutes and drugs; cause us to question our own social values” isn’t new ground to tread. In a year where we had some pretty cool and unusual things happening in mainstream cinema (an animated “princess” movie where the most important relationship was between two sisters, a space thriller whose face was a middle-aged woman, a high-grossing action movie starring a young woman, a sci-fi blockbuster where 2/3 leads were NOT white men, a female buddy-cop movie), this just seems….tired. And honestly, nothing in this review is making me think the movie is going to ask any questions that haven’t been asked a million times, in similar explorations. Pass, sorry.

  37. YancySkancy says:

    Marissa: I don’t see why Scorsese has to reinvent the wheel. While it’s always nice when mainstream entertainment has an original spin, mostly they hedge their bets and deal with universal themes. This can indeed lead to uninspired work. But the counter-examples you give, while all admirable, aren’t truly ground-breaking — they’re just welcome diversions from the run-of-the-mill. Films that don’t do that have to be taken at face value, which you can only do by actually seeing them. If you pass on all such films, you’ll save a lot of money, but miss some really good stuff. Not to mention that some films contain performances or tech work that is very much worth seeing, regardless of the overall quality of the whole. If Clooney were the lead in GRAVITY, would it have been dismissed as just another space thriller? I enjoyed THE HEAT quite a bit, but it hasn’t a fraction of the ambition or technique of THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (though obviously this is an apples-and-oranges example).

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon