Sunday, April 13, 2014

Wolf It Down

I'm not one of those film enthusiasts who worships at the altar of Martin Scorsese. He's made a few good films and at least one really great one (The Departed), but he's also made his share of stinkers (does anyone want to try defending The Aviator?). So it was not the director that drew me to last year's The Wolf of Wall Street. I was intrigued by the strong performances the movie was said to showcase.

Perhaps I was also a bit intrigued by the controversy. In the run-up to this year's Academy Award scenario, The Wolf of Wall Street -- though a nominee for Best Picture -- was never said to be seriously in contention. And the reason often cited by critics was the polarizing nature of the movie's characters. The story was stuffed top to bottom with reprehensible people, nobody to root for, and thus the film couldn't ever muster the enthusiasm from the voters to win the top honor. But some of my favorite movies have, let's say, unheroic or unconventional protagonists. I was curious.

The Wolf of Wall Street is a glamorized look inside the stockbroking business, along the lines of Wall Street (which is even mentioned in the film). Of course, Wall Street was a film of its time, where this movie comes to us 25 years later as a "period piece." It is indeed an actors' movie, and has several interesting performances.

Leonardo DiCaprio collaborates with Scorsese once again, in a role that earned him a Best Actor nomination. I don't feel it was deserved. Though his wry narration does inject a lot of the film's humor, his presence on-screen is showy to a degree of being too self-aware. Jonah Hill was also Oscar nominated for this film, an apparent acknowledgement of the weird challenges associated with his performance -- he wore strange teeth, actually got smacked by actor Jon Bernthal, put a live fish in his mouth, and had a particularly notorious scene with a prosthetic. But if physical discomfort alone were enough to earn you an Oscar, Sandra Bullock should have won her second for Gravity. Jonah Hill is good, but in a film stuffed with showy performances (obsessed Kyle Chandler, annoyed Rob Reiner, steroidal Jon Bernthal, oily Jean Dujardin, high-strung Margot Robbie, sympathetic Cristin Milioti), Jonah Hill just isn't really prominent enough to stand out.

If you want to talk about an actor who does a lot with a little, look to Matthew McConaughey. He's in this movie for perhaps five minutes at most, but casts a shadow a mile long. His weird, chest-thumping improv (reportedly an off-camera warm-up Leonario DiCaprio encouraged him to use during a take) has become the signature moment from this film, actually changing the script before rocketing into the zeitgeist.

But as for the film? Well, it's style over substance. And a lot of it, clocking in at nearly three hours. There are certainly entertaining moments sprinkled throughout, but there's also a lot of down time in between. Some people will have the patience to sit through and extract these juicy morsels, but most are probably better off taking a pass. I give The Wolf of Wall Street a C-.

1 comment:

Girard said...

As a person who likes these types of movies (business related, lots of drugs, lots of money, lots of people full of themselves that are out to have a good time), I enjoyed this movie. It's along the same lines as Boiler Room (drugs were less rampant) and the Wall Streets, like you said. It was interesting to see the spread of drugs that were used, rather than just running straight to the cocaine the whole time. I think they didn't spend enough time on the businesses to help explain it in more detail. The narration by Leo did help though.

I had a lot of people tell me that this would be one of my favorite movies. I was a bit disappointed, especially the draggy pieces. I think it cracks the top 100, I wouldn't put it above Boiler Room, Wall Street (probably ahead of 2), Suckers (not stock broker based, but same concepts).

- Girard