(versão em português aqui)
As a companion piece for Monday’s The Irishman article, I’m republishing my review of The Wolf of Wall Street written in January 2014.
Excess is at the heart of most of the films Martin Scorsese made in the last fifteen years.At some point after Kundun (1997), the American filmmaker’s movies have completely lost their sense of economy and proportion – they move quickly, accumulate situations with little care, and the idea that “more is better” becomes the motto that guides them along with Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing, she has been the director main creative partner since Raging Bull (1980), but she was elevated to almost co-auteur in films such as The Departed (2006), whose effect becomes very dependent on her articulation of shots.Even a modest film such as Shutter Island (2009) or a calmer one like Hugo (2011) does not escape hysteria or a certain grandiloquence: in late Scorsese we are always faced with the idea of spectacle as excess.
Some of what makes The Wolf of Wall Street a genuine interesting movie is that such excess is no longer a matter of form and becomes the film’s subject matter.It’s a movie about the desire to spending money by a filmmaker whose recent work is all about burning through the largest possible Hollywood apparatus with no guilty.It’s a hundred-million-dollar movie about a character seen not as a vulture of the big financial system (we’re far from Oliver Stone), but as a much more mundane rampant consumer, less interested in accumulating capital than in spend it as fast as possible. As a vision of uncontrolled capitalism, Jordan Belfort’s Animal House is as seductive (because easier to identify) as it is frightening, in the crudity of its logic when pushed to the limit, as Scorsese’s current aesthetic allows.
The best observation I’ve read about The Wolf of Wall Street so far has come from American critic Zach Campbell who compared the movie to Marco Ferreri’s La Grande Bouffe (1973).It is a much more useful point of comparison than the many films about the American financial system or the decadentist epics of Cecil B. De Mille, precisely because it brings The Wolf of Wall Street closer to Scorsese’s Catholic verve.Ferreri was a Marxist, something Martin Scorsese is far from being, but his idea of taking the logic of capital consumption to the extreme comes from the same Dionysian principle of Scorsese’s catholicism so both movies can wallow in shit, absorb all its pleasures and purge it in the process, and by doing so coming off clean on the other side.What seems to bother many of The Wolf of Wall Street’s critics is precisely this blameless belief that Jordan Belfort’s bacchanal is a space that the film can occupy and even absorb without major neuroses, that this overdose of excess will naturally take charge of exposing its faults.For the first time in ages, the lack of proportion that dominates recent Scorsese films turns into an aesthetic weapon.
The Wolf of Wall Street is a movie of scenes, gestures, and moments, far more powerful in these than in its larger movement.These are small disconnected actions forcibly attached together by Schoonmaker’s editing work.In this sense, one could not be farther from a movie like Goodfellas (1990), whose vaudeville bits, as charming as they might be, served a larger drama;here they exist by themselves, the meanings of the film are in the overlap of these various moments, one over each other, until the final exhaustion.There is no insight or coherence in its assembly of the financial world’s brutality (if this is what the cinephile is looking for, they will be much better served with a work like Johnnie To’s Life Without Principle).
In The Wolf of Wall Street, there is not even room for victims or even to show Belfort’s brokers at work.As a movie about a system and its operation, it’s a complete failure.There is not much care in creating a world as much as in allowing small moments to register – such as Matthew McConaughey’s ceremony that reveals the vulgarity behind Wall Street’s apparent respectability;the body language of Jean Dujardin’s Swiss banker, which includes every cliché that American audiovisual fiction has accumulated about French immorality; orDi Caprio’s many crises.The Wolf of Wall Street is an ethnological film: its meanings are indistinguishable from an assortment of behaviors;its characters, part of an experiment, animals for whom unlimited money was given and then allowed to see how far their libido would lead them.Leonardo Di Caprio’s performance is a triumph precisely in that it is a physical and animalistic one.The film does not allow him motivations, conflicts, just an unbridled desire to consume more.He is a guinea pig designed to do coke, spend, fuck and drink until death.
The failure of The Wolf of Wall Street is therefore inevitable.An experiment designed to drag itself until exhaustion, it is probably the first three-hour mainstream comedy in American cinema since Stanley Kramer ‘s It’s a Mad Mad Mad World (1963).The accumulation of excesses brings with it an unavoidable hangover that the film is incapable of dramatizing, because dramaturgy is something it barely understands.Di Caprio’s Jordan Belfort is a great animalesque creation, but he remains an orgy of excess’ master of ceremonies, an empty shell unable to bear the consequences of his actions.There is a disastrous scene near the end that attempts to illustrate the other side of his character, in which Belfort, drugged up, tries to kidnap his own daughter and ends up crashing the car out of the garage – the change from crude comedy to psycho movie becomes a weak late attempt at an apology, with the monstrosity that had so far presented itself through Di Caprio’s screen presence badly articulated into actions.
This lack of discipline is quite costly in the final scenes.For example, after about 170 minutes, it finally abandons Belfort’s point of view to show the empty homecoming of the federal agent who arrested him, despite the fact that everything in the scene had already been better communicated by actor Kyle Chandler in each. of his previous ones.This mood of melancholic hangover crashes badly within a carnivalesque movie like The Wolf of Wall Street and at some points, as in the final sequence, we are reminded that Scorsese is now imprisoned to a prestigious filmmaker straitjacket, as if for a moment, Trading Places (1983) believed that there is some value in respectability.
If The Wolf of Wall Street manages to assert itself as a political movie, it is precisely because during the vast majority of its running time it plunges into tasteless vulgarity, recognizes that the last thing its universe deserves is to be justified with a respectful approach. The film sometimes suggests a nostalgic panorama of the 1990s, while also calling for a return to the Clinton years, pre-financial crisis, pre-Bush, now almost a mythological oasis for the American progressive (there are some inspired music needle drops that reinforce this impression) and an awareness that the excesses of the period eventually lead to current dry landscape. One might wish to return to a more uncomplicated moment, but The Wolf of Wall Street has the merit of not denying its own ugliness. Its crassness is a state from which the film is unable to escape.