For all the negative things I am about to say about this film, I want to first make it crystal clear that I think The Wolf of Wall Street is worth seeing. If you like seeing DeCaprio let loose, if you can't get enough of party movies, if you're interested in finance and especially if you do coke or quaaludes, this may be your favorite film this year. But even if you dig all these things, you and I and everyone who saw this can probably agree on one thing.
It's too fucking long.
I have always believed that editing is more crucial to film than people think, and that 100 minutes may be the perfect length. You get your point across, don’t waste any time, yet have enough time to bask in some montages or pretty scenery. However if a movie goes over two hours it better be epic. The Godfather was epic. Fight Club was epic. The Wolf of Wall Street is not. To be fair, all of Scorcese’s films are too long, but they never dragged like one does. There is absolutely no excuse for this rather simplistic party movie to be three hours long. There is plenty to chop here, whole scenes could have been deleted, and almost every scene could have been shortened. It’s as if Scorcese wanted to mirror the feeling the protagonist has when he snorts coke and then crashes on Quaaludes. The movie starts will plenty of promise and adrenaline, but as it goes on and on and on and on it exhausts you to the point of atrophy.
Now, this is a comedy film, and there are some great moments that had me laughing outloud, but the main problem is that Scorcese’s lack of editing and comedy do not go hand in hand. Comedy can be a delicate art, and there is nothing delicate about this movie or its pacing. There are many comedy scenes of various characters shooting funny lines back and forth, and the vibe looks so natural that it feels like improv, yet each scene goes on for far too long and the laughs begin to wane and the funniness withers and the scene flops around and dies. That is not to say that a long joke can’t work. It can. But these aren’t long jokes. These are banters that should be kept tight and funny and they just don’t. So for as great as it is to see Rob Reiner curse out Jonah Hill, after five minutes it becomes tiresome.
There is one giant exception to this, one long joke scene that works beautifully and if you’ve seen it you probably already know where I’m going, and that is the Quaalude overdose scene. Without spoiling anything, it involves slow-acting, expired yet extremely potent Quaaludes that hit both Belfort and Azoff like battering rams, and Belfort slump, wiggle, drool, drive, and slur his way back home to make sure the other doesn’t do something stupid. It’s a lengthy scene but it is gut-bustingly hilarious and the whole theater went wild. DeCaprio and Hill nail it, especially DeCaprio whose narration during the bit only makes it funnier. This is the peak of the movie.
The Wolf of Wall Street pretty much putters out after this point, because there is literally nothing going on in this film other than partying, sex, drug use, greed, and a lot of coked up male stockbrokers screaming “Fuck yeah!” in offices. It’s three hours of excess, without a shred of satire, cleverness, or restraint or any kind. Not to say there is anything wrong with a simple story, but this movie is three hours long. You can’t force us through an eighth of a day watching people party and have absolutely nothing more to offer. I still don’t know what this movie was trying to do or say and at this point I don’t really care. I’m assuming the film is about the success of gluttony and the gluttony of success, and if so, congratulations. That horse has been beaten so much that by now the bat’s about to break.
We all knew that Tarantino was going to crack eventually. We knew his ego would inflate so much that he wouldn’t bother to edit his films and just throw everything he wants up on the screen and know that Taratino fans will gobble it up. But as both a fan as a critic, Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds were overlong and overdone. And while this hasn’t happened to Woody Allen yet (go watch Blue Jasmine, by the way) it appears to have hit Scorcese pretty hard. This movie reeks of excess and lack of control. Which, again, would be good things if the film were shorter, but it’s not so there you go.
I have the feeling that The Wolf of Wall Street was trying to say something profound, but had no idea how. The simple fact is that while partying is fun to write and probably even more fun to direct, it’s just not that interesting. Watching people get rich and scream on top on yachts may work for a cheesy montage but not a whole movie. It’s just not a good story. Simple as that.
Music kind of sucked too, especially for Scorcese.
So why should one see it? Because there are comedy bits that really work, and more than that, you have to see the performances of DeCaprio and Jonah Hill, who carry this movie on their backs. After ten minutes, I didn’t see Jonah Hill anymore. I saw this character. Part of that is the fake teeth and huge glasses, but it’s the completely erratic, goofy, out of control and yet believable performance by Jonah Hill. DeCaprio, while I’m glad he got nominated, probably won’t win because he acts incredibly coked up throughout the film. Which is the point I guess, but he chews up the scenery so much I expected to see bite marks on the movie poster. Still, he does a great job with what was given to him and the two of them have fantastic chemistry.
For all its excesses, The Wolf of Wall Street is worth checking out for its comedy and its acting, and with better editing it could have been a very good movie. But it could never be great because the plot is shallow and you can try your best to make something appear less shallow, you can dress it up and stretch it out but like fabric the more you do that the more transparent it becomes. That’s this movie watching experience in one word: transparent. And although it would have worked better with a Scarface-esque shootout at the end (the ending here is rushed and atrocious) I still give it a recommendation, because despite its flaws it’s a fun movie.
Best Way to Watch: On coke