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Posted February 23, 2014 by William Dunmyer in Dramedy
 
 

Wolf of Wall Street: Another Mediocre Best Picture Nominee

Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, which was nominated for the Best Picture Oscaris a predictable, over-long, repetitious dramedy based on the completely uninteresting life of Jordan Belfort, a semi-educated man who spent two years in prison (2004-2006) for various white-collar crimes.

It is mystifying why a filmmaker of Scorsese’s caliber would find Belfort’s life interesting, especially given the fact that Ben Younger already made a film based on Belfort’s unscrupulous business practices (Boiler Room, 2000). There of course is also Oliver Stone’s not one but two Wall Street films. Given the fact that this territory has already been thoroughly mined, Wolf of Wall Street reeks of been-there, done-that.

I was hoping that Scorsese would find something new to say about this subject matter. But no. All he brings is higher production values and bigger party scenes. Almost nothing of consequence happens in Wolf. There is some good comedy from time to time, especially from Jonah Hill, P.J. Byrne and others who play Belfort’s groupies and most devoted salesmen. Hill in particular stands out and deserves the Supporting Actor nomination he received. Hill and Melissa McCarthy are the most gifted comedic actors working in American film today.

Wolf might have been more interesting had it been about Hill’s character. Unfortunately it’s Belfort who’s onscreen the entire time. Belfort forming his company. Belfort getting it on with hookers over and over. Belfort doing drugs constantly — as well as talking about drugs endlessly. Belfort divorcing his childhood sweetheart and marrying a bimbo. (Neither female character has any characterization, incidentally.)

Belfort stumbling around drunk. Belfort hosting fratboy-style parties. Belfort driving expensive cars. Belfort learning to shield his assets in Switzerland. Belfort’s non-stop voice-over narration, repeatedly stating the obvious. It’s wall-to-wall banality. Three hours of it.

It’s puzzling that Scorsese would find Belfort interesting. It is baffling that Academy nominators would consider Wolf of Wall Street worthy of a Best Picture nomination. I recently said that Nebraska may go down in history as the worst film ever to receive a Best Picture nomination. Wolf of Wall Street will be the second-worst. And both in one year. What a great season for the Academy!

Are there really many Academy members who believe that Wolf is one of the best films of 2013? Or did Paramount and its corporate parent Viacom push employees and business associates to vote for the film? Or is there now a Pavlov’s Dog reflex with Scorsese? It’s a Scorsese film: nominate it.

For the record, I would easily have nominated The Great Gatsby and Blue Caprice over Nebraska and Wolf. Heck, I’d even put August: Osage County and Blue Jasmine over Wolf.

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Leonardo diCaprio plays Belfort. His performance is adequate at best. His Oscar nomination as Best Actor was wildly over-generous. As the film begins, Belfort is getting his first job on Wall Street — approximately 1985. In this relatively short sequence Matthew McConaughey has a brilliant scene, playing a senior manager who mentors Belfort. McConaughey gives a hilarious speech to Belfort over lunch, telling him to, among other things, jack off more at work. McConaughey ends the lunch by teaching Belfort a tribal chant that Belfort will later teach his employees when he starts his own firm. This is very good comedy. Too bad McConaughey never appears again in the film.

After the crash of 1987, Belfort breaks out on his own, selling unregulated “penny stocks” at a 50% commission. Belfort attracts a handful of misfits who would never be hired by a white-shoe firm. They are led by a chubby oddball (played by Hill).

Belfort is married at the start of the film. We learn absolutely nothing about his wife, who appears on-screen for about 10 minutes total and has almost no dialogue. She’s in the background. After Belfort’s firm becomes explosively successful, he meets a blonde bombshell and marries her after a fairly lengthy affair. This is the only woman in the film who gets a substantial amount of dialogue. But she’s not much more than a blow-up doll come to life. Her breasts and vagina have a bigger role than her character does.

Fast forward past about 25 parties and 25 evenings with hookers, and we get to the time when the FBI begins investigating Belfort. This leads to the Swiss connection, where Belfort tries to send a mountain of $100 bills to Europe. Jean Dujardin (Oscar winner for The Artist) plays the Swiss banker in a charming bit role.

The best scene in the second half of the film has Belfort trying to bribe the chief FBI investigator (played by Kyle Chandler), floating the idea of the bribe as subtly as he can. Unfortunately the bulk of the second half is focused on drugs, including one very long sequence where Belfort is so incapacitated by a Quaalude overdose that he literally crawls around on the ground drooling at the mouth. This sequence goes on for at least 15 minutes.

Yes, there is an inspired comedic performance from Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street, and there is some moderately entertaining melodrama. But Oscar nomination as Best Picture? Belfort must have died laughing when he heard that.


William Dunmyer

 
William Dunmyer is a lifelong cinephile who fell in love with movies at about the age of 5. He lives in New York City.