Leonardo DiCaprio gave what I have always thought of as the performance of his career in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Since then he’s always been a little studied–you can see him thinking. Not this time! Get this–not only does he absolutely nail the charisma, the magnetism, the shallowness, the lust and debauchery, but he does one of the best physical comedy sequences I’ve ever seen. I was howling laughing in this movie, and definitely in the delayed reaction qualude scene. He should win an Oscar. Christian Bale has more layering and depth in American Hustle, and I absolutely don’t care (since these are the things I care most about, that’s saying something). There are people who should be movie stars for the sheer force of their performance power, and The Wolf of Wall Street proves that Leonardo DiCaprio is one of those people.
Then, there’s Scorcese. The use of camera angles, voice over, monologue to camera, quick cuts, infomercials–he is a brilliant director and brilliant in how he uses the camera.
BUT. And there is a but. This movie shows the greed at the heart of capitalism, the drunk-with-power Wall Street success stories, and it disturbingly made me want part of that story. No problem so far. But the sex–all the beautiful and very nude women, the graphic nature of the sex, the overpowering lust, and the abundance of those scenes, made me feel sick. It was like watching pornography. And on one hand, that’s kind of the point of the lives these men lead, and how incapable they are of any love, and women are just holes to them, and even sex is a way to bond with and compete with other men, who are the only people that matter. But on the other hand, the women looked like they were enjoying it, and so did the men. Contrasted with Oliver Stone’s film, Wall Street, in which the emptiness and betrayal of self, the lack of morality, tells on people and their relationships, Scorcese’s film made it all look kind of fun. Unless, of course, you’d lived any part of it (my grandfather was rich and my uncles were a bit like these men) and then you might bring a little more information to the party and just want to puke.
The film is so well made, and DiCaprio and Jonah Hill are unbelievably brilliant, but I’m not sure the message is that greed is bad. At the end, we’re offered a colorless and miserable contrast of normal people compared to the wild animalism of what we’ve seen so far…and it makes the animalism look appealing. And though the film offers nothing of depth about women, and makes abject objectification titillating, its sexism is countered by its self-aware portrayal of sexism…you see my dilemma and intense ambivalence. I’m watching pornography that knows it’s pornography and degrading, and wants to say that, but it’s also made to be appealing and funny. Basically, pukeville for women.
However, if Scorcese is intending to reach us and change us, I can say two things: 1) if that’s what sex was really like, I’d never have sex again (I thank whatever/whoever it doesn’t have to be) and 2) I’m seriously thinking of selling all my stocks and moving into a Buddhist monastery to get as far away from capitalism as possible. I might not be able to resist the temptation of the get-rich-quick fantasy otherwise.
Disturbing. But worth seeing. If you don’t mind wanting to puke at knowing that some women really live these lives.