Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street

In The Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorsese treats the world of high finance in turn as frat house, college bowl halftime show, and lost episode of Jackass. Cocaine has replaced coffee as the upper of choice in the hyper-masculine halls of commerce, and power lunches apparently break into atavistic grunt-songs with such regularity that the other restaurant patrons barely even glance up from their steaks. Drawing upon the life of Jordan Belfort—a fallen financial wunderkind who scammed around $200 million out of investors—Scorsese turns real-world fraud into fodder for darkly comic absurdity. From a Quaalude-addled Belfort straining to crawl into his Lamborghini to a boardroom full of financiers discussing the fine print of their midget rental contract, the film zips from one gonzo setup to another with a lupine speed that belies its three-hour running time. Yet the film returns to the same few notes again and again, with volume the only variety to be found (your options are loud or louder). It seems excess is excessive, and apparently the idea must be embodied if it is to be conveyed. You might as well say a good war film is supposed to shoot the audience in the face.

Viewers may feel similarly blasted by Scorsese and crew once the credits start to roll. The film saves its final rebuke not for the guy convicted of money laundering, but rather the $40K-a-year types greedily dreaming up ways to meet their mortgage payments. Never mind the millionaires—the problem is that the schmucks in the crowd trusted the wrong wealthy elite to run the show. After all, if the system can bestow fame and good fortune upon the likes of Scorcese and Leonardo Dicaprio—estimated net worths of $70 million and $200 million, respectively—then surely it can’t be all that bad, can it? In fact, this apparent assault on corporate avarice and depravity is so devastating that its putative target feels comfortable making a cameo; Dicaprio even returned the favour and filmed a promo for Belfort’s motivational speaking business. But why shouldn’t Belfort happily appear in the film? Movie deals are good cash, and he has bills to pay like anyone else: $100 for groceries here, $90 million in restitution fees there. In the film, a negative article in Forbes only feeds the man’s fame and appeal. One can only imagine the spin-off benefits of being subjected to three-hours of supposedly scathing cinematic mockery.