Movie Review
The Wolf of Wall Street
Wolf of Wall Street poster
By Lee Tistaert     Published January 23, 2014
US Release: December 25, 2013

Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Matthew McConaughey , Leonardo DiCaprio , Jon Favreau , Jonah Hill

R for sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language throughout, and for some violence
Running Time: 180 minutes
Domestic Box Office: $116,893,000
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What I look for in a Martin Scorsese film just wasnít playing out in The Wolf of Wall Street, and its three-hour running time turned into a chore which was a big bust.
The Wolf of Wall Street was my biggest disappointment of 2013. Perhaps my expectations were way too high going into this film, but even after trying to watch this three-hour film twice, it doesnít work for me. First I thought I was going to love it because the early reviews were raving it, but then over the course of a couple of days, the reviews began to slide and came awfully close to mixed. I wanted another experience on the level of Goodfellas or at least close to that level of entertainment, and going into the screening on Christmas day I was hoping to repeat my luck from Django Unchained. Django was an awesome Christmas day movie and it made up for having been disappointed by Inglourious Basterds a few years back. But what I look for in a Martin Scorsese film just wasnít playing out in Wolf of Wall Street, and its three-hour running time turned into a chore which was a big bust.

Scorsese and DiCaprio are perfectionists in whatever they apply their minds to which is why my expectations were sky-high. The problem with sky-high expectations is that if it doesnít start off to your specific taste, youíre already disappointed by it and that leaves a bad feeling in your gut as it happened for me. I really liked the advertising for Wall Street, but what I got from the film itself was the opposite. I wanted a heightened sense of style in hipness, a cool soundtrack, and characters you could root for. From the advertising, I thought it was going to be a compelling story about rising to the top in success, and what would happen if it went straight to your head and you spiraled out of control as a madman. I had only read a few tidbits about the story and how it was a cautionary warning about huge success. What I didnít expect was to watch a story about characters that I didnít care one bit for.

I love DiCaprio, and I like Jonah Hillís attempt into serious acting recently. Pairing an intellectual actor with an immature comedian seemed like it could turn out impressive results with Scorseseís direction, but I was amazed when I didnít latch onto them as characters. Every character is scummy as hell and that turned me off right from the beginning and I hated all the characters. The direction wasnít impressing me either right from the start and I wanted a much cooler visual execution. The first trailer for this film applied a great Kanye West song to the visuals and it had me panting to see where this story was going to go. I was dearly hoping the film would be using similar techniques in its style. But what I got in the film was mundane visuals and an unmemorable soundtrack that wasnít doing it for me. From a directorís standpoint in regards to the scummy story, I can understand what Scorsese was doing here, because the visual execution is almost dirty and grimy and fits in with the despicable premise. But what I wanted was to be glued to the cinematography and having a hip soundtrack pumping me up with it. Thatís what the first trailer was doing for me and I sat there watching the film just scratching my head.

The story is about a group of Wall Street wannabes learning to rip other people off in the business and cheating them badly to get ahead in their own lives. I may have had the wrong expectation for most of 2013 because I didnít expect the story was going to be a bunch of very unlikable people. The premise is spot-on about what these New Yorkers are like when theyíre sitting around all day in their offices scheming away on how to get rich quickly taking other people down who donít even know it. And itís spot-on about their lifestyle of relying on drugs and hookers because they can afford it all. But when I watch a film in any genre or on any topic, I need to like or respect the people Iím watching. I couldnít latch onto any of these characters because they were too immature and despicable for me. But thatís also the point of the story Ė We are watching a slice of life depiction on these types of bad people. Scorsese is saying that you donít have to like these people as personalities; this is just who they are.

Before going into my first screening in Los Angeles, I was evaluating countless numbers of sellouts from New York theaters throughout the first day and I was picturing countless numbers of Wall Street wannabes wanting to watch themselves on the screen. The number of sell-outs all day long was making my jaw drop to the floor and it made me wonder just how effective this film was going to be because these people are difficult to please. It was raking in a massive amount of money at top-tier locations and these types of people are going to boo loudly if itís not what they wanted. Watching the film, I was picturing their reactions while I was being disappointed by it, and my imagination was a sad picture. I was imagining very positive reactions and full-houses that were on the verge of applauding the characters. The film was essentially holding up a mirror of their own life and desires, and I sat shaking my head. At my screening, there wasnít any of that because it wasnít New York and I was happy that I wasnít there. When I saw Django Unchained at this same theater on its first day, audience enthusiasm was through the roof and everybody in the room burst out applauding when the film came to an end. Nobody applauded at my screening of Wall Street and there was a very obvious divide between liking and hating. It was evoking strong discussion afterwards whether it was a good film or a complete waste of time. Some people admired what the film had done and some people completely disagreed with everything.

With Goodfellas, you watched a good-natured, innocent young kid join the mafia at a very young age and then watched as he got corrupted to the dark side and spiraled out of control in the business. That film displayed rich and original cinematography styles and featured one of the most memorable soundtracks in cinematic history, let alone characters that were very interesting and compelling. There wasnít anybody in Goodfellas that I didnít like and it made me root for all of the mafia members. Thatís an impressive feat because youíre not supposed to like the mafia and youíre supposed to be opposed. Scorsese had turned every character into a relatable personality and made you want to become them.

With Wall Street, I expected a similar tale about the desire to be someone you shouldnít be, and I was shocked when the script didnít wrap me into its world and I really didnít want to be a part of it. When the characters were scheming people and celebrating their debauchery, I hated all of them. The story I was expecting was rooting for DiCaprio to succeed and watching him take success way too far, and making this controversial business so desirable youíd want to drop what youíre doing and be like him. I expected a film about a bad party boy and his accomplices and making it dangerously fun. Anybody with a conscience wouldnít want to be on Wall Street but a film like this should persuade. Watching these characters, I didnít want to become them and I wanted these characters to disappear. Youíre supposed to dislike Wall Street people but my expectation was making their lifestyle desirable.

I had the wrong idea that it would be similar to Goodfellas and Boogie Nights in story and visual execution, in regards to joining a business and lifestyle that you shouldnít be a part of and making it so appealing youíd be forced to question your morals because you want to jump onscreen with them. As a result, I sat there bummed for three hours because I wanted to be far away from these people. There was nobody I could latch onto and I was really disappointed the visual execution wasnít cooler. The soundtrack, which I thought would be major, wasnít doing anything for me. I tried to watch the film twice and the second time was out of curiosity to see if my expectations were too high the first time. But both times, I had the same complaints, and both times I was panting for a film that wasnít this film.
Lee's Grade: C
Ranked #44 of 119 between The Place Beyond the Pines (#43) and Fast & Furious 6 (#45) for 2013 movies.
Lee's Overall Grading: 3025 graded movies
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