Hammering Out... The Wolf of Wall Street

Hammering Out... The Wolf of Wall Street

Hammering Out... is a series of movie reviews featuring a lively he said/she said discussion between John and Julie.  This week: The Wolf of Wall Street.

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JOHN: When I heard Martin Scorsese's latest film, based on the memoir of Jordan Belfort, was moving off its November 15 release date because Scorsese needed more time editing it down from 4+ hours, I have to admit: I was a little nervous.  What was the problem, exactly?  Why was it taking so long to edit?  And, more importantly, why was this movie over 4 hours anyway?  Turns out, all those worries were unfounded.  Scorsese has gold here, and even edited down to 2 hrs. 59 mins., The Wolf of Wall Street is on the short list for one of the very best films of the year.  I loved it.

Yes, I loved it, in all its amoral excess.  Scorsese, who, it should be noted, is 71, directs the film with a feverish energy and blistering comedic tone.  The movie comes charging out of the gate in the first few seconds with style, humor, and visual ingenuity to spare.  It doesn't let up for another 2 hours.  Yes, the final hour loses some of its humor, and gets bogged down with real life events, but it's still entertaining as hell.  Even now, Scorsese is still out-directing others half his age.

I see a lot of movies, so it's hard to shock me, but that's exactly what this movie did.  I was not prepared for everything that goes down in this film.  Candles in Leo's ass, midget tossing, hedonistic orgy parties aboard airplanes, crazy drug-fueled hallucinations.  So much of the movie is so wrong - NONE of this behavior should be condoned - and yet, it plays so right.  Scorsese invites the audience to go along for the ride, to be appalled at the behavior on screen, and to secretly revel in it.  And laugh.  This is a really funny movie.

Before I turn it over to you, Jules, I have to give a shout-out to this cast.  First, let's talk about Leo, shall we?  This is his fifth collaboration with Scorsese (Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island), and I dare say it's the best.  Not only that, this (he plays Jordan Belfort) may just be the best that Leo has ever been on screen.  And, here's another bold statement coming: between this, Django, and Gatsby in the last year, Leo - for my money - has officially become the greatest American actor working today.  He deserves an Oscar nomination for his work in Wolf, and, more than that, I think he should win.  This role is tailor-made for him.  It's a challenging role.  And, he just knocks it out of the f'ing park.  The man is a national treasure.

Equally good is the supporting cast.  Bravo, Jonah Hill.  He proves here that his more dramatic work in Moneyball was no fluke.  The guy has talent.  The scenes between him and DiCaprio sparkle with a sense of improvisational gamesmanship.  Rob Reiner shines in a smaller role as Jordan's father.  Then there's Matthew McConaughey, who in a mere 3 scenes, makes a giant impression on the audience.  Just huge.  A lunch meeting scene early on, where McConaughey teaches DiCaprio the ropes, is hilarious and an easy highlight of the film.  McConaughey comes in and kills it.  THAT's how you do supporting character work.  I could keep going - Kyle Chandler is also great as the FBI agent trailing Jordan - but I'll let you have a say now.  So, what say you?

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JULIE: First of all, I had mostly avoided all of the brouhaha surrounding the nature of this film and its alleged condoning of Jordan Belfort's actions, but today I did read an article and, whoa, are people mad. I get it, but I don't get it. The tone of this movie is certainly tongue in cheek. I don't believe for a second that Scorsese's M.O. is to glamorize or condone what this guy has done. I understand feeling uncomfortable with the subject matter or angry with people like Jordan Belfort if you have, heaven forbid, been the victim of a scam like this. But it's just a movie. And it's a movie about how a guy's excesses got him in trouble. And it's a movie about how he should've and would've gotten in more trouble if he hadn't been a rich asshole. And it's a movie about a principled FBI agent who brings him down. And it's a movie about how money can't buy happiness and contentment.

We watch shows and movies about bad people doing bad things all the time. Breaking Bad taught us about how lucrative making meth can be. American Hustle taught us about crooked politicians and pulling one over on the feds. Should we ban people from making these kinds of films and TV shows because of the bad ideas they might give people? Should we only be allowed to chronicle the lives of saints?

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed this film. Yes, it's long. Yes, it suffers a little bit from not having a satisfying cinematic ending (part of the problem of adapting a true story for the screen; I had similar problems with 12 Years A Slave). But the acting is out of this world, the directing is top notch, and the script was so funny and quick. Martin Scorsese continues to amaze. And you know you won't get any argument from me about Leo being the best American actor working today. He's at the top of his game right now.

I feel like, with Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorsese is patting David O. Russell on the head and saying, "Well, you tried."

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JOHN: Ha!  Yes, well - Scorsese definitely put the smack down on American Hustle.  Anyone questioning which of the two movies they should see, the choice couldn't be more obvious: Wolf over Hustle, all the way.  I agree with just about everything else you said.  The movie doesn't endorse any of the behavior.  It does not paint Jordan in a good light.  He's an asshole.  Everyone around him is an asshole.  We hate these people.  They deserve everything bad coming to them.  And yet, I can't stop watching them.  This is a tale of moral corruption.  It is Scorsese's subtle indictment of the financial sector, Wall Street, and all the big investment companies that continually lord over and ruin our economy.  If anybody missed that point, then they were too distracted by Scorsese's command of the film language and the fireworks he's capable of setting off on screen.  Credit should also go to his longtime collaborator, Thelma Schoonmaker, who edited the movie (give her the Oscar too!), and to Sopranos scribe Terence Winter, who wrote the fantastic screenplay.

I also agree about the ending: it doesn't really stick the landing.  Certainly not to a degree that it ruins the movie though.  What were your favorite scenes?  I have so many that come to mind, but would love to hear your take.

JULIE: Yep. While the movie as a whole is great, there are so many little scenes and moments that stick out. You mentioned the lunch with Matthew McConaughey, which is out of control good. I also loved the scene with Rob Reiner getting a phone call. Seriously A phone call. It's amazing. The scene where Leo tries to get in his car after taking some especially potent 'ludes. The scene on the boat with Kyle Chandler. I could go on. Which of your favorites did I leave out?

And I'm with you on awarding some of the behind-the-scenes folks for their contributions to this film. This should certainly be in the mix for best adapted screenplay.

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JOHN: I think you hit my favorites.  The whole 'lude sequence, beginning with Leo slurring on a pay phone and culminating with him saving Jonah Hill from choking on a piece of meat, is a master class in taking your time and letting the comedy and outrageousness build to almost epic proportions.  I loved the two dialogue-driven scenes between McConaughey and DiCaprio, and Chandler and DiCaprio.  And, I really loved the shot Scorsese uses after DiCaprio gives a stirring, cocaine-fueled speech to his employees.  As everyone busily goes back to work, making phone calls, yelling, swearing, etc. - the camera glides just over their heads from the front of the room to the back, and then back to the front again.  Truly awesome.  Is it wrong that I want to see this movie again?  I bet it's even better the second time.

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JULIE: I bet you're right. And I bet it's the kind of movie that, once people become more familiar with it, they will be quoting it in their daily lives. Not because they want to be Jordan Belfort, but because the lines that come out of his (and Jonah Hill's and Rob Reiner's and Shane from The Walking Dead's) mouth are gold, Jerry.

I rate this movie a The Departed and a half on a Scorsese scale from Bringing Out the Dead to Goodfellas.

JOHN: Once again, you've outdone yourself with a useless rating system.  Oh, and Jon Bernthal just telephoned to ask that you stop calling him Shane.  I was originally going to go with a 4.5 out of 5 star rating.  But, upon reflection, I'm kicking this one up to the full 5-stars.  Only two other movies have received that rating this year, so Wolf is in some elite company.

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