So Leo has finally won an Oscar, after being pretty good in some great films for a few years now. Phew. That’ll be a relief.
I’ve already said that I don’t think he has been particularly deserving of one in the past, but possibly his best performance came in the 2013 hit The Wolf of Wall Street. And even then he was going up against the unstoppable force of the McConaissance.
But forget DiCaprio for a second, because the real snub in Oscar history, of course, was for the director of The Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorcese.
Having been snubbed for Best Director four times in the past (for Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ, Goodfellas and Gangs of New York) he finally won in 2006 for The Departed, TWENTY-FIVE YEARS after his first nomination.
How can a director of his obvious class be ignored for so long? Perhaps because he is a director that rarely loses sight that films are essentially there to entertain. While other, lesser directors lose sight of this on the hunt for some great meaning and/or importance, each of his films maintain that aura of “fun”. But “fun” doesn’t win awards.
The Wolf of Wall Street is about as fun as a film can get. Before it came out I knew I would love it. Featuring possibly my favourite director alongside an ever-improving DiCaprio, it looked great. Throw in a McConaughey cameo as a coked-up stock broker, and I was sold. It’s a great film.
However, in the weeks that followed the film became a significant source of controversy, namely in the way it apparently glorifies and celebrates the excesses of Jordan Belford and the group of people who got rich off the pain and manipulation of others.
Having rewatched it recently on Netflix I have formed a new theory on this: anyone who thinks this is a glorification of their lifestyle hasn’t watched the film.
The key point here is that the film is narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio’s Belford character. The main character is narrating his own story. As in, the man who we watch lie, cheat and steal his way through a three hour greed epic is the man telling you what is going on.
In other words, the style used here is that of the “unreliable narrator”. It’s a fairly well-used format in fiction, in which events take place in first person, where the character tells you what happened through their own experiences. This means it is prone to exaggeration, poor memory or just flat out lying.
The most obvious clue to this is in the first few minutes of the film. As DiCaprio narrates, we see his red Ferrari speeding down the highway.
“No, no, no” Leo says over the footage. “My Ferrari was white, like Don Johnson’s in Miami Vice“. The colour of the car changes from red to white.
Get it? This guy can’t get his story straight. In his own introduction to the story he exaggerates a minor point to seem even cooler. They might as well have written “DO NOT TRUST THIS MAN” in capitals across the screen.
As the story progresses, Belford starts to manipulate more and more people, and makes more and more money in doing so. This happens via one of my favourite scenes of any film I’ve seen in years. You know the one:
I swear, I could just watch McConaughey’s face in this gif for hours.
We see the excess Belford lives in, and yes, there is plenty of it. But guess what? Showing excess does not equal glorifying it any more than showing violence glorifies that either. This is a deluded, egotistical man telling you his story, and it’s great fun.
It’s like going to a party and listening to a guy who is telling wild stories from when he was at university. Sure, it might be entertaining, you might laugh, and you might actually enjoy their company for a couple of hours. But when you leave you probably won’t get a divorce and go back to college. It’s a story. A funny one, but one you can safely say is viewed upon with rose-tinted glasses of someone who just doesn’t know any better.
By the end of the film, Belford is a wreck. Nothing about his drug addiction makes it look like fun. The way he writes off his car, has to resuscitate his overdosing friend, or nearly dies in a storm sure as sh*t doesn’t look like much of a laugh. And then he rapes his wife. She tries to divorce him, so he beats her and tries to kidnap his daughter, but crashes his car. He then ends up in prison, on shortened terms after he ratted out every single one of his friends and ended up alone.
Again, who is watching this film and think it’s a glorification of greed? I had to use italics six times in one paragraph just to adequately get across how unlikeable he is!
Even if he can dance like this.
In many ways, it’s similar to two of Scorsese greatest films, Goodfellas and Casino. Both are essentially tales of excess, of people who got a lot through illegitimate means and squander it through greed. Both films are stupidly enjoyable to watch, but the characters are mostly irredeemable monsters who get everything that is coming to them and more. You don’t turn off your Goodfellas DVD and want to be Henry Hill. It’s like Scorsese’s speciality. Bad people doing bad things, but enormous fun to watch.
And if anyone still thinks The Wolf of Wall Street is anything more than this, then, I don’t know what to tell you. It’s just a story. But as is always the case with Scorsese, it’s one hell of a story.
Wolf of Wall Street Rating: This scene. All day, every day.
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