December 26, 2013
By Mike Caccioppoli
Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” isn’t so much a condemnation of free market capitalism as it is a cautionary tale of how our very particular brand of capitalism is a breeding ground for corruption. It’s very much in line with Scorsese’s milieu as it gives us “bad” guys that we like, even love. In films like “Goodfellas” and “Casino” it’s the mafia. In “Raging Bull” it’s a boxer fighting his demons. In “Taxi Driver” it’s a cabbie who through isolation and rejection lashes out against a violent and corrupt world.
With “The Wolf of Wall Street” it’s a bunch of rich, young stock brokers led by Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio in his best performance ever), who starts out all wide eyed and ready to learn the biz and quickly becomes a degenerate drug and sex addict. Addicted to money yes but even more to the ability to do whatever the fuck he wants because of it. We watch often in horror as he pops pill after pill, chasing it all down with a several lines of cocaine.
Scorsese doesn’t leave much to the imagination, he allows his film and his actors to get down and dirty, to roll around in the mud with these characters. He lets their dicks hang out (literally). There are several scenes where we want to look away but we don’t. The film is incredibly funny especially in how it goes balls to the wall in showing how fucked up these dudes can be. In one brilliantly depraved scene, Belfort has taken several Quaaludes and drives to a local hotel to make a phone call on a pay phone since his home phone has been tapped by the FBI. The drugs kick in while he is in the middle of the call and he drops to the ground and begins to convulse, no longer in control of his muscles. He desperately tries to roll on the ground and down the steps to make it back to his car where he will somehow drive a mile back home in order to tell his equally fucked up buddy (Jonah Hill, also great) to stop talking on the phone! There is much more to this scene and Scorsese takes his time with it, making us feel every absurdly painful second that Belfort is experiencing. Here is a millionaire that is a total wreck and part of us wants to laugh at him while the other part feels sorry (kind of).
Our reaction to this scene and the entire film is exactly what Scorsese was aiming for. Here are people that through phony stocks and illegal practices, rob millions of dollars from mostly wealthy people. They celebrate their conquests with over the top parties of depravity. They get high every day and fuck their way through life and yet we aren’t really disgusted by it. Sure we KNOW it’s wrong but damn is it fun and entertaining to watch. The movie is three hours long and I could have spent another three hours with these people..easy.
The real brilliance of the film is how it sort of implicates us in this depiction of capitalism gone wild. We cringe but also laugh, we know it’s morally repugnant yet want even more of it. The same way we feel about the gangsters in “Casino” and “Good Fellas”, yeah these guys are crooks but damn are they fun to be around!
Some have made the mistake over the years of thinking that Scorsese is glorifying the characters in his films and there will be critics who don’t know their asses from their elbows who say the exact same thing about this film. They are wrong. Scorsese understands the American way, that we criticize this behavior but continue to allow it because it’s simply in our DNA.
From poor boy to rich stock broker, from low level gangster to made man. It’s uniquely American and it doesn’t really matter how they got there. Oh sure we care about laws and shit but look at those beautiful babes, homes, cars and boats!
Scorsese continues to be one of our greatest filmmakers because he knows this better than anyone else. He plants us firmly in the heads of his characters and for the most part we enjoy being there.
The last scene in the film shows Belfort, just out of jail. He is now a popular motivational speaker. He speaks to his audience of foreigners, trying to explain to them the art of the sell. As Scorsese pans the crowd they just don’t seem to “get it.” Maybe it’s just not in their DNA.