26 December 2013

Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

Genre: Comedy

Halfway through The Wolf of Wall Street you, like I or really any theatergoer, may find yourself wondering whether you may have accidentally intruded into another theater, screening Spring Breakers instead of this new collaboration of Mr. Scorcese with Mr. DiCaprio; debauchery, I'll concisely say here and then be done with it, abounds and, in its abundance — spanning the smorgasbord of sex, drugs, and emotional outbursts — at first grounds but later undermines the skill of this new film. A story of trust among the rowdy, the film aspires to be a bit like 'Julius Caesar [Shakespeare] meets Marie Antoinette [Coppola, 2006] featuring a male protagonist circa Wall Street [Stone, 1987] and beyond ' but fails to really sew together those far-flung patches of narrative filmmaking. Odds preponderate evens and, like Virginia Madsen's character in Sideways (Payne, 2006), I have to conclude, "Too much alcohol overwhelms the fruit."

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Now, my dismay is not to say that all aspects of the film are lacking; surely, high-flying features like Sandy Powell's costuming, Jonah Hill's supporting performance, and Mindy Hall's make-up and hairstyling redeemed what otherwise may appear indifferent from a more mature and certainly more highly financed version of Project X (Nourizadeh, 2012). The verisimilitude that Ms. Powell and Ms. Hall imbue into the characters on screen takes after not only their eras and stations but also their emotional appeals in both comedic and dramatic fashions; a lavender crushed-velveteen belt on an infuriated cursing power broker cleverly snickers at the pretension of the fight that he foments, while a pristinely white polo underscores the protagonist's bid at being an upstanding, fiercely moral man. And Mr. Hill simply lives the part that he plays, with pugnacious honesty; like some of the best performances I've seen this year, his turn as the compatriotic bon homme and fuel tank to many a fire cultivates even at the wrists a thorough understanding of what in far less adroit hands could have been a meagerly sinister or even fecklessly foppish sidekick. However, these pieces alone truly shone here.

Regarding Mr. DiCaprio, whose own performance I've yet to mention here despite its being the centerpiece of this voracious enterprise, I must demur; pronouncements of excellence — though perhaps predictively accurate of his to-be-determined end-of-awards'-season accolades — feel overly generous to me. True, he does stretch his muscles over quite the range of emotional plot points and, true, he does offer some wonderful episodes in this film; yet, true also, to shout and cavort recklessly through scene after scene doesn't really press a thespian for his talents and, true also, to ride a rollercoaster doesn't make one a master engineer. Perhaps the fault, dear Leo, is not in the star but in the screenplay; perhaps the rather lumpy writing of non-film-veteran Terrence Winters ceases to allow any actor beyond adequacy in completing the realization of this quasi-real man. Even still, to lay in these shortcomings is to inhabit them and to inhabit them, to own them; falling into the potholes on the road lain before one is shoddy driving. Flirting with innocence at the film's beginning, Mr. DiCaprio doesn't really convince of what his lines suggest is his character's otherwise impeccably shiny youth and related exuberance, even though he does hammer down the awkward sheepishness of a minor public spectacle on one's first day. Stumbling through benders in the film's middle, Mr. DiCaprio doesn't really delve into the longer-term motivations of his character, even though from an script reader's perspective the character has no longer-term vision than that of the next few hours. Finally, mellowing in abnegation at the film's end, Mr. DiCaprio doesn't really exude contempt for his character's lawful remission, contempt that even a cursory script reader knows must be there. Mr. DiCaprio is here but a prince, not yet a king.

The only remaining comment that I can and will make at this time is that, to close the film with a somewhat oblique panegyric hearkening back to the earliest scenes but bestowing the spectatorship not on the audience again but rather on some extras against the audience anew is threatening storytelling at best, Mr. Scorcese. Don't misunderstand, reader; I am all for passive complicity with less than ideal characters. However, here to transform a specimen that you've until this close handled with mystified gloves into an icon of demonstrated admiration is to (attempt to) wrest opinion from the minds of your viewers and inject into its place preformulated and campaigning artifacts. Yes, we include the people whom the real-world counterpart of this fictionalized protagonist lured and deluded and, yes, we all — not simply those deludables — should be drawn to acknowledge that fact; but, no, under no circumstances is our acknowledgement to be a broad indictment of our our predictable gapishness and mawkery (both sic on purpose). The lingering question that you effectually propose is a finger in the eye of the viewer, Mr. Scorcese; I'd urge you to have reconsidered that finale. (Otherwise, your work was fine in every respect.)

Grade: B-.

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