Review of The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Moving picture, 3.0 hours

Seen in 2020.

Glamorous white-collar crime.

A few of the directorial choices are curious, such as the first slow-motion shot of Donnie on “ludes”, extended as if to promise a climax that never comes. More central to the intent of the film is the last shot of Denham on the subway, joyless in victory. You can read that scene in two ways: Law enforcement targeting the worst parasites should be more richly rewarded to keep them happy, or, he’s just a joyless bastard anyway. The first interpretation represents some hope for the rule of law. In the second interpretation, perhaps Denham deserves to live in relative squalor for taking down the joyful, extravagant, funny, rich, generous, brave and handsome Belfort, who seems to know better than Denham “how to live” and has sexy adventures.

Scorsese whispers that Belfort is contemptible, but he seems to lean toward the second interpretation of the scene on the subway. The seductive and misleading spectacle of Belfort’s life, based on the man’s autobiography, is presented as the main attraction here, just like Susan Hayward’s character’s rise to wealth—not the harm she does—is the main attraction of Tulsa (1949). The possibility of justice is a footnote. The negative consequences for innocent people are not even that; not a single victim is shown, unless you count Belfort’s first wife who disappears after leaving him. This leaves a bad taste of hypocrisy, but the craftsmanship is undeniably very good.

References here: The Big Short (2015), Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019), The Irishman (2019).

moving picture fiction