Undoubtedly concerned with the aspiration and acquisition of the American Dream, Martin Scorsese’s commercial sensation The Wolf of Wall Street illustrated the capitalist fantasies of a saddening amount of young western adults. Telling the true story of Jordan Belfort, a stockbroker who rose to become a multi-millionaire, Scorsese’s insufferable drama tediously indulges in the hedonistic pleasures of Belfort and his gang of dislikeable cronies; snorting and shagging their way to nowhere.
This pursuit of wealth, security and opulence are not unusual in cinema, with some of the greatest films of American history dealing with similar concepts of bubbling ambition and dogged persistence. Though the path to attaining this ‘dream’ is rarely easy, with the fantasy often muddied by personal shortcomings or forces outside an individual’s control, making characters unfit to claim the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
This isn’t the case for Jordan Belfort in Scorsese’s hedonistic drama that so often dips into comedy, as if the abhorrent actions of the nasty leading cast of characters are something to be celebrated. For Belfort, played by DiCaprio (who tries to instil some charm into this husk of a moral man), these issues are few and far between, however, with the filmmaker preferring to rush to his era of financial success rather than slowly explore the psychology of a man so focused on the pursuit of the American dream.
Scorsese is no stranger to dislikeable protagonists in dogged pursuit of something greater than themselves, however, with Taxi Driver Travis Bickle’s seeking a life more meaningful and Henry Hill of Goodfellas trying to seize the power of being a mafia member. The difference between these aforementioned characters and Wolf of Wall Street’s Jordan Belfort, however, is the effort to humanise such twisted individuals, to the extent where we sympathise with the loneliness of Bickle and see Hill as something of a small fish in a big pond.
In Scorsese’s 2013 thriller, hedonism is celebrated, with the bad taste of depraved indulgences treated as if their mere comedy, despite the fact that they’re really not all that enjoyable to watch. Screaming across his well-occupied office space about how much money the company is making, before a half-naked marching band and a stream of burlesque dancers dash into the office, Scorsese is presuming that American arrogance is a universally beloved, endearing trait, when actually it’s something to recoil from.
This is the main issue with The Wolf of Wall Street. For all its huffing, puffing and exuberant displays of grandeur, little is really translated to the audience apart from ‘isn’t this fun,’ with the filmmaker refusing to see that much of the audience is grimacing, not smiling. Unsurprisingly, it’s not enjoyable to watch a bunch of egotistical capitalist morons splurge their money up the wall and metaphorically compare dick sizes.
For Martin Scorsese, one of America’s greatest ever filmmakers, The Wolf of Wall Street is a truly lazy piece of cinema, surrendering to the same mere pointless indulgences that made Belfort a multi-millionaire in real life. The story of crime, corruption and the American dream has Scorsese written all over it, but the filmmaker forgot to inject any mastery into a movie that lacks the material, depth and characterisation to ever be considered a ‘classic’.