Unpopular Opinion (Film): “The Wolf of Wall Street”

By Ethan Sapienza

via Salon
via Salon

On numerous occasions, I have read a book and thought, “Nothing needs to be changed, this can be made into a movie just the way it is.”

The notion is a simple one: take a book and translate it into a script word-for-word (disclaimer: I know next to nothing about scriptwriting). Would the transformation be successful? It depends on numerous factors, such as the book itself, the director, actors, writers, etc. Martin Scorsese’s “Wolf of Wall Street” is a near perfect example of attempting to copy a book word-for-word and failing…miserably.

It’s a terrible shame, given Scorsese has proven to be adept at adapting previous works to fit his own style (“Raging Bull,” “The Departed”). However, a book as thick as “Wolf” must be filled with innumerable lurid details of the finest forms of debauchery. In the form of a novel, these wicked depictions are digestible, given they are up to the reader’s discretion. The events can be imagined, which leaves room for relaxation in terms of how strict one might envision just exactly what a plane orgy looks like.

Call me prudish; I prefer to think I have taste. While watching “Wolf,” my eyes were assaulted by an onslaught of sex and drugs, although I understand that’s the entire point in studying Jordan Belfort. He’s disgusting, but my God, is it fun to watch people fuck and snort lines of coke off of strippers (or so I’m told).

Clocking in at 180 minutes, I find that a few of many, many perverse scenes could have been cut, so as to at least relieve viewers. While that point may be more reliant on personal choice, I found the oversaturation made the movie stale, where scenes became indistinguishable and repetitive to the point of overkill. No longer is a statement being made concerning the character of Belfort, but a testament to how even sex and drugs can get boring. (Thinking that over now, I’m fairly impressed.)

Another branch that could’ve been cut down significantly (and I find no preference here but pure commonsense) are the numerous instances of Leo riling up his troops by telling them how great money is. Make it a montage, only include two scenes from the bunch, make them all shorter — I don’t care. I don’t need to be lectured directly seven different times about the same idea. Leo plays Belfort with charisma and sexy repulsion, but that doesn’t change the fact that the monologue is the same in every single one of the (what seems to be) 10 minute long, one-sided powwow.

What is so terrible about the overkill is how it can be interpreted. The film does not offer any direct viewpoint on the man in three hours. It’s easy to think it hates him, despite obvious fascination with his ludicrous wealth and fetishes, yet it gives the real Jordan Belfort a cameo in the end. The film itself is helping to promote the man’s autobiography, driving up sales, and I’m sure he made a fair amount off of the rights. On top of all of this, the film purely presents what happens. He’s let off the hook at the end; I don’t mean in terms of what his money can buy, but in how the film treats him.  A visual spanking would be nice, but instead “Wolf” seems content with open interpretation, particularly dangerous where scenes of its interest with the subject can be mistaken for admiration. What this all leads to is one too many people finding his lifestyle, while fairly over the top, appealing. I’m not sure whether that’s the fault of the feeble-minded or the film, but I presume it’s both. Nevertheless, such a conclusion is enough reason to make the film a total farce.

I understand, many will respond by saying the book form of “Wolf” is Belfort’s own words and certainly includes glorification of his twisted way of life, a fair deduction given what he’s like. Yet that is part of the fun of reading the book, having a mental struggle with the voice of the narrator, understanding that the words are coming from a psychopath and not some omniscient being whose existence is to tell a story. In the form of a film, too many people allow themselves to sit idly by and let the images enter their head, not to be churned over but purely accepted. This is not an attack on man, but rather a practical look at how movies are thought of as entertainment while literature is for intellectual purposes. I’m not asking for a warning message at the beginning of the film but simply a more grounded and active awareness of Belfort’s repugnant nature. Otherwise, “Wolf” is a Wall Street recruitment video instead of a true cinematic work.

Ethan Sapienza is a staff writer. Email him at film@nyunews.com.


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