Friday, December 27, 2013

No Shame in Game of 'The Wolf of Wall Street'

Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) listens attentively as Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) tells it like it 'tis on The Street in "The Wolf of Wall Street." Photos from "The Wolf of Wall Street" Facebook page.

YOURS Truly has been mulling over “The Wolf of Wall Street” since she screened it more than a week ago.

The film, based on the best-selling book of the same name by former scheister Wall Street stock broker and current motivational speaker Jordan Belfort, had its world premiere in New York City on 17 Dec.

It opened wider in the country on Christmas Day (25 Dec.). Leonardo DiCaprio stars as the former defanged broker in a film directed by frequent collaborator Martin Scorsese. Both men are among the film’s producers.

“The Wolf of Wall Street” has been on the brain because I do not recall the last film that left me so conflicted. Pressed to produce a title, I’d cite “Gone With the Wind.” I love it, though I should not, considering its content.

The former film has filled me with a far greater disquietedness, however. It has only been the last couple of days that I have been able to articulate why, a disclosure that I will make shortly. Critically, “The Wolf of Wall Street” has been generally well-received. Already, LDiC and MS have been nominated for awards; other nominations are sure to follow. (See trailer below).

The accolades are understandable. Is it even possible for MS to misdirect a film? Of course, yet he rarely does. As for LDiC, he has become an actor with a capital A. He’s proved that he is a dramatic actor. But in “The Wolf of Wall Street” he shows that he can manage the far more difficult business that is the comedic performance.

“The Wolf of Wall Street” is definitely a dramedy. When LDiC has to be serious as Jordan, whom he resembles, he is quite good. However, when he is required to bring the funny, he is even better. The long scene that begins at the WASP country club and ends in Jordan’s kitchen about a mile away is uproarious. In those few minutes, LDiC brings to mind Cary Grant, specifically in “Bringing Up Baby.” There are numerous laugh-out loud scenes in “The Wolf of Wall Street. One of the most memorable is toward the beginning of the film and involves Matthew McConaughey.

MMcC has a cameo role as Mark Hanna, a top dog at the first brokerage that employs Jordan before the stock market crash of 1987. He makes very good use of his short time on screen and gives new meaning to the multiple-martini lunch. Don’t be surprised to see MMcC’s moniker on some “Best Supporting Actor” nomination lists; ditto for Jonah Hill’s (Donnie Azoff).

The latter plays Jordan’s partner (whose name has been changed in the film, the case for most of the main players) in Stratton Oakmont, the penny stock firm that Jordan founded shortly after the crash. Indeed, the film boasts a very strong supporting cast, including Margot Robbie as Jordan’s second wife, Naomi. Don’t be surprised to see the name of the Australian newcomer on some “Best Supporting Actress” lists, in part for her command of the Long Island, New York accent.

Katarina Čas as money mule Chantalle in "The Wolf of Wall Street."

“The Wolf of Wall Street” is well-directed. It is also well-acted. So, what’s not to like? It is important to note that Jordan Belfort was a drug and sex addict; this is chronicled in the book. In fact, during that memorable lunch scene, Mark gives an uncorrupted, but eager Jordan to know that the way forward in their business is drugs and sex – pretty much in that order.

Therein lies the crux of my consternation. “The Wolf of Wall Street” gorges itself on sex and drug scenes, as well as general hedonism. It is the sex scenes, however, that still haunt me. Women are terribly demeaned (and men, too, for that matter). In “Gone With the Wind,” blacks are demeaned, but the scenes are not grossly offensive.

No such defense can be made for “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Hollywood standards and practices have become so relaxed and permissive that almost anything goes. And in this film, almost anything does go. Indeed, the going was so bullish at one juncture that MS had to edit some sex scenes to avoid an NC-17 rating, almost certain box-office death for many films. Can't you just imagine that meeting with the suits from Paramount, the film's distributor, trying to diplomatically make such a suggestion to a legendary, Oscar-winning director who generally retains creative control of his projects?

Incidentally, it is too early to prognosticate about how "The Wolf of Wall Street" will do at the box office. Open in the United States at the moment in around 2,500 theaters, it did about $9.1 million and $6.6 million on 25 Dec. and 26 Dec., respectively. The top film for both days, "The Hobbitt: The Desolation of Smaug" on roughly 3,900 screens, brought in $9.3 million and $10.5 million. U.S. audiences won't likely gear into full moviegoing mode until this weekend. Stay tuned for more numbers on Monday (30 Dec.).

But I digress. I am of the school of thought that subscribes to the notion that just because something is written in a book or dreamed up in a mind does not mean that it has to be done precisely so on the screen. Some things can, must and should be left to the imagination. MS leaves very little room for imagining here.

Countless are the sex scenes that could have been excluded. The one featuring the “penny stock” prostitute belongs at the top of the list, closely followed by the airplane scene of Jordan’s Las Vegas-bound bachelor party, and the nursery scene involving his second wife, Naomi, in which she graphically informs her husband of what he will not be getting any of. These women are mothers, daughters, sisters, cousins, aunts. They deserve better, regardless of how far they've fallen or how much they have compromised.

Film audiences in many countries have been numbed by drugs, violence and sex. “The Wolf of Wall Street” continues the powerful anesthetic. MS could have easily borrowed a page from Vincent Minnelli's “The Bad and the Beautiful,” for instance. Kirk Douglas’ movie producer is far more depraved than Jordan Belfort and he was sober. Still, the 1952 film left much to the imagination, perhaps or not, owing solely to standards and practices of the time.

Martin Scorsese (center) directing Margot Robbie and Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Wolf of Wall Street."

Of course, Wall Street will eat up “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and probably take inspiration from it. But one wonders on Main Street whether the film will prove equally disturbing for men as it should for women on any street. What am I saying – and I am not a prude or so-called feminazi? This film should prove colossally disturbing, in spite of the talent involved, for anyone who sees it.

In a word, shame. Shame on Martin Scorsese. Shame on Leo DiCaprio. Shame on Jordan Belfort, the son of accountants, for writing such smut – yes, smut!!! Just because these events happened and Jordan is required to turn over millions in restitution to those he swindled does not mean that a book about his boorish behavior had to be written and the most salacious aspects fed to the moviegoing public. These events have zero redeeming value.

Shame on me, Yours Truly, for not walking out of the screening, instead staying until the bitter, three-hour end of a film that does deserves an NC-17 or greater rating.

Shame, shame, shame on everyone involved in the making of “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Shame!

"The Wolf of Wall Street" is rated R for sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language throughout, and for some violence; visit to learn more about the film.

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