Excess is the name of the game in Martin Scorsese’s three-hour-long The Wolf of Wall Street, which, in spite of great performances wears out its welcome.
The Wolf of Wall Street chronicles the true story of crooked wealthy stockbroker Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio). Much of the material is played as comedy and, at times, it is laugh-out-loud funny. Scorsese has always been able to find humour in dark, even tragic, material whether it be in The King of Comedy, Goodfellas or The Departed.
The issue is that the film becomes bloated by a gratuitous amount of sexual and drug related content. It is necessary to show the sexual and drug-fuelled exploits of Belfort and his partners, but the intoxicating and corruptible nature of power and money comes across the first or second time we see this explicit content. There’s probably 30 or 45 minutes of debauchery that could be cut with no ill effect to the film.
Another problem is that very little feels new. We’ve seen this story and these types of men before in Wall Street and Glengarry Glen Ross. In terms of story trajectory, Scorsese is borrowing heavily from his own Goodfellas, which showed the rise and ultimate fall of a newcomer in a mob family. Both films even end with the lead characters turning rat on their friends.
Goodfellas worked so well because it brought us into the mob world and helped us to understand its workings. Very little is explained of this shady Wall Street underbelly. When we are allowed access into this unknown world — such as when Matthew McConaughey plays mentor to DiCaprio over lunch or when DiCaprio walks into a run-down stock exchange office and in a matter of minutes sells a stock worth’s pennies for $4,000 — the movie is both terrifically entertaining and compelling.
There are moments when DiCaprio gives a monologue directly to the camera explaining how something works and then stops himself to tells us “you don’t care about that.” Instead, we get more scenes of partying. Ironically, we do care and do want to be let deeper into the workings of this corrupt system.