12.29.2013

REVIEW: The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, 2013)



A few weeks ago, around the third time I checked my watch during the unfortunate Scorsese imitation that is the new David O. Russell's "American Hustle", I thought to myself, "At least there's a genuine Scorsese right around the corner to wash this out of my brain." After all, despite how mundane "The Age of Innocence" is, I'm not sure the American master has made an outright bad film. In fact, the man has made some of my very favorites, including "Gangs of New York" and "Bringing Out the Dead". Hope was patiently relished leading up to the release of "The Wolf of Wall Street", and if you'll excuse the unintended play on a contemporary social media trend, I can't believe what happened next.

After what I'm guessing was two hours of this unruly dark comedy based on the autobiography of criminal stockbroker Jordan Belfort, I found myself staving off tears. A domestic fight was ensuing on screen between colleagues who were both comically high out of their gourds for what felt like the thirtieth time yet, and I was fighting to dry my eyes. My reaction was not in sympathy for the sorry situation our characters had found themselves in, but for the strongly saddening fact that the incomparable Martin Scorsese - at more than seventy years old and still freshening his creativity with every outing - is now presenting what feels like the cocaine and quaaludes edition of "Pineapple Express".

Rumors have placed the original running time of what has become Scorsese's longest non-documentary feature at between four and six hours. I do not wish to imagine the nightmare "Wolf" would be at double its theatrical length. This behemoth overstays its welcome long after the incessant party sequences have ceased to moderately amuse. Whatever your opinion of modern classic "Boogie Nights", you'd have to agree that at least each party sequence - of which there are a good handful - carries its own unique tone and significance to carry the film forward. Whatever your opinion of Baz Luhrmann's divisive "The Great Gatsby", at least the obnoxious party sequences only exist to establish the world before we delve in to character development and legitimate storytelling. Whatever your opinion, there is a reason "Spring Breakers" is only ninety minutes long.

"Wolf" is three hours of non-starter monotony, just with Scorsese adjusting the volume of the single tone between scenes. Not until the final shot is an idea provided as to why we have been subjected to a drug- and sex-addicted white collar schmuck's exploits for so long. Prior to that bow, but one brief scene presents itself as thematically substantial, though it is so precise in its conveyance it just recalls the Captain Obvious rodent from the otherwise spectacular "The Departed".

Now, to be fair, there is plenty going for the picture. For one, costumer Sandy Powell is yet again by the director's side to create one of the most accurate depictions of 1990s fashion we've seen yet on screen - one that is not as commonly tongue-in-cheek as many late 20th Century period pieces have been. One might even say that despite some oddly blatant computer effects and green screening, the film feels as though it could have come out in the '90s. Also, amongst the monotony there are at least three - maybe four or five if I'm being generous - sequences featuring standout craft even if it does get lost in the whole (hints: Chandler, country club, custody, wake up, penny stocks). Finally, in his limited role Jon Bernthal is, just, like, so fucking awesome.

Though "Wolf" persists amusingly enough before the excess of the unvaried indulgence really begins to calcify, Scorsese could have appeared on screen and eaten himself alive before my eyes and it might've been a similar experience.

Stop the ride, Marty, I'm ready to get off.

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