The Wolf of Wall Street written by Terence Winter, directed by Martin Scorsese (Paramount Pictures, Red Granite Pictures, Appian Way, R, 180 min)

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, and Kyle Chandler.

Gratuitous

Look. I’m not the kind of person that writes off a story, or art more broadly speaking, if it offends me. Even more, I can withstand morally objectionable depictions provided the support a greater theme. I wouldn’t search the Internet to figure out how many f-bombs are dropped in a film, or how many sex scenes occur.

Even when I heard the deluge of complaints around the excess of The Wolf of Wall Street, I laughed it off. I thought to myself, “Hasn’t everyone seen a Scorsese film before? He twists obscene into an art form. It’s his thing.

Despite all the warning, I was unprepared for what jumped onto the screen — something beyond gratuitous. And truthfully, it looks like I’ll add my voice to the chorus by excoriating The Wolf of Wall Street.

Searching for Prey

The Wolf of Wall Street tells the real-life story of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), a licentious stockbroker. The story begins with Belfort’s introduction to the testosterone-fueled offices of a Wall Street firm. As a low-level employee, Belfort learns the ropes of sex and drug addiction from his boss (Matthew McConaughey).

After losing his job when his firm went bankrupt on Black Monday, Belfort began selling penny stocks, a largely unregulated field where traders can bank large commissions. Seeing success from his aggressive sales tactics, Belfort enlists the best salesmen he knows — drug dealers — and scales his business to larger investors.

With a “legit” sounding name, Stratton Oakmont, Belfort and his team artificially inflate the value of stocks in order to gain high profits from large trades.

As a result, Jordon is filthy, filthy rich. He marries a former model, Naomi Lapagilia (Margot Robbie) and lives a life of excess in every form, becoming addicted to prostitutes, cocaine, and Quaaludes.

With success comes scrutiny, FBI agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) begins investigating the firm, centering on Jordan and his empire.

A Comedy?

Truthfully, I think Scorsese wants us to laugh at this movie. It sets itself up as a dark comedy quite often, and truly there are some funny moments. But I can’t get past the main premise here — it’s good to be rich. Despite Belfort’s vast sea of iniquities, it’s hard to say he’s much of a changed man, let alone that he paid much of a price for his sins. Even more, this movie, based off of his memoir, just furthers his wealth.

The excessiveness of the film — from nudity, to drug use, to its language — is intentional perhaps to the point of comedy (think the use of violence in Tarantino films), but it just left me feeling pretty icky. Maybe that’s what Scorsese wanted, but it sure wasn’t fun to experience.

I remember reading an opinion piece about this film from Belfort’s daughter, essentially pleading for the viewing public to avoid this film, to ignore this man who’s made so much money of the backs of others.

I wish I had listened to her.

Verdict: 1 out of 5

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