Review: The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

I went into this movie with pretty high expectations, given the pedigree of the production team and the buzz that this film could finally land DiCaprio his much desired Oscar. Although billed as a comedy, this film has been marketed as a satirical look at the opulence and moral bankruptcy of American stockbrokers in the lead-up to the economic crash of 2008. As you can imagine, I was pretty excited to see this one.

The Wolf of Wall Street movie poster

Ultimately, though, this film really fell short.

While it certainly had some funny moments, particularly thanks to Jonah Hill, the humour was often immature and slapstick, leaving me feeling more like I was watching an R-rated version of “Grown Ups” rather than a Scorsese take-down of greed and extravaganza in America. The bulk of the film seems wholly focused on providing opportunities for nudity and drug use rather than actually attempting to critically engage with anything of value. In fact, the film inadvertently becomes an advertisement for the lifestyle it is aiming to take down, namely drug use and the objectification of women, making the sex and drug-filled lifestyle of Belfort seem both appealing and nearly consequence-free. Put briefly, this film felt more like a cheap Skinemax rip-off of Boiler Room, a far superior adaptation of Belfort’s book The Wolf of Wall Street.

From a disability stand-point, The Wolf of Wall Street also includes a supposedly “funny” scene in which several main characters debate the merits of “dwarf tossing.” Although this scene was likely intended to draw laughs at the ignorant banter of the brokers, it still relies on the fundamental exhibitionism and dehumanization of little people that allows practices like “dwarf tossing” to remain socially acceptable.

Beyond the stupidity, though, what really bothered me most about this movie is its promotion/validation of everything that is wrong with corporate America. Rather than acting as an Aristocrats-style inditement of Wall Street’s immorality, the film inadvertently acts as an endorsement of the idea that with limitless money comes limitless pleasure. Rather than coming down on the bad behaviour of Wall Street, this film seems to indicate that we should all just be scrambling to get in on the fun while we still can. I’m assuming Scorsese intended the audience to leave the theatre shocked and appalled by the main character, but instead the audience is left wishing they too could live such a life (one patron I passed on the way out commented to his friend “Man, I wish my life was like that…”) and thinking that Denham, the FBI agent charged with taking down Belfort, would have been better off taking the bribe offered to him at the beginning of the movie so he, too, could be rich and, therefore, happy. Ultimately, whether it intends to or not,  this film seems to prove that it doesn’t matter what you do if you make enough money to get away with it and that this level of greed is something to aspire to rather than something we urgently need to reassess.

For its glamorization of out-of-control greed and hedonism, slap-stick drug use and the brutal treatment of women, I would not recommend wasting the 3 hours it will take to get through The Wolf of Wall Street.