After sitting in a theater and watching the full three hours of Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, I wanted to vomit. The sick- ening feeling in my gut derived not only from the absurd length of the film but also from its glorified por- trayal of drug use and sexual habits. Rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use, language and vio- lence, Wolf lives up to every inch of its warning label and easily could have been pegged as NC-17.
The opening scene marked the first indication of my coming reaction. Viewers are treated to Leonardo DiCaprio’s full-throttle depiction of Jordan Belfort, a Wall Street stockbroker/swindler made infamous for the practices of his firm, Stratton Oakmont. From the very beginning, DiCaprio’s character comes off as an arrogant, self-obsessed, greedy and generally appalling person who finds humor in throwing little people during of- fice parties. To make matters worse, Scorsese waits just long enough for his audience to identify the pro- tagonist’s flaws (which are clearly the centerpiece of the film) before flashing back to Belfort’s early days on Wall Street. Imagine seeing the last 15 minutes of A Beautiful Mind before the rest of the movie. Even though “Wolf ” never had a fighting chance of living up to Ron How- ard’s gem, Scorsese eliminated even the slightest hope of a decent story arc by revealing every card in his hand too soon.
The film’s lengthy middle sec- tion acts as an explicit how-to guide for anyone who has ever dreamed of achieving a glutton- ous, loathsome nirvana. Belfort snorts, pops and whores his way through the finance district, dem- onstrating a wide skill set rang- ing from snorting cocaine off a hooker’s breasts to masturbating in the middle of a party. He reach- es a new low after taking enough Quaaludes to sedate an elephant, but like all of Belfort’s drug-in- duced antics, driving while out of his mind and endangering the lives of others is passed off as some kind of unbelievable triumph. In a golden opportunity to high- light the heartbreaking impact of drug addiction, the film goes for a cheap laugh, ignoring the very real side effects of this kind of lifestyle. Christina McDowell’s letter to the Los Angeles Weekly confirms this vehemently. Scorsese needs a refresher course—it only takes a few scenes to establish a character as a drug addict, not three hours of material advertising just how many ways there are to get high.
If a viewer can look past the entirely excessive drug use, the first thing he or she will notice is the omnipresence of women. From Belfort’s wives and mistresses to the countless hookers hired by the office to the few female stock- brokers who end up with shaved heads, a treatment which a review in The Guardian compares to the witch-trials, the women in the film make their presence known. The problem is, they are present purely
to provide Belfort and his cronies with sex in whatever twisted ways the playboys can dream up next. With multiple scenes of full fron- tal female nudity, the women are impossible to miss, yet the male characters are never treated with such insensitive harshness. After watching this film in its entirety, I believe Jordan Belfort to be de- spicable; Scorsese convinced me of that. I don’t, however, understand why a film about him must stoop to the same level. If the film was trying to point out Belfort’s more misogynistic habits, maybe its cre- ative team should have considered how to achieve this without de- meaning women any further.
Let’s pretend that the drugs and misogny didn’t bother me. “Wolf ” still would have been one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. The lack of suspensful storytelling evinced in the opening sequence continues throughout. Even the conclusion left me confused and unsatisfied. Belfort enters the film as a vile example of humanity, has a brief moment of soulfulness, gets corrupted and never looks back. So Wall Street has its share of greedy liars who steal money? So Belfort was a scumbag? So the justice system is incapable of solv- ing all the problems in our coun- try? What precisely is the point of watching this film?
If “Wolf” is supposed to be en- tertaining by virtue of watching a dumb guy do dumber things, it’s not. If it is supposed to showcase the horrors of drug abuse and sex- ism, it definitely does not.