The Wolf of Wall Street made more than $116 million at the U.S. box office — and twice that overseas — even with a running time of three hours. Its five Oscar nominations included best picture, director (Martin Scorsese), actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), supporting actor (Jonah Hill), adapted screenplay (Terence Winter, from Jordan Belfort’s book) — although it did not win any. When the Oscar for best actor went to Matthew McConaughey instead of DiCaprio, Leo’s fans in the Twitterverse went berserk.
Yet it remains, for me at least, a deeply flawed film. The reasons should be evident on Tuesday when it arrives on disc (Paramount, $29.98 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray/DVD/digital combo).
DiCaprio stars as the avaricious Belfort, building a huge fortune on the backs of investors unaware that the stocks peddled by Belfort and his associates are trash — and that the investment money will end up buying mansions, yachts and custom cars for the scammers, not to mention paying for quantities of drugs and sexual excess beyond ordinary imagination.
The movie is a companion of sorts to Scorsese’s GoodFellas, with DiCaprio filling the amoral, greedy shoes of Ray Liotta in the earlier film. And if you look at it that way, then DiCaprio’s Belfort is clearly a criminal among criminals, a character we do not admire but are nonetheless fascinated by. It also deliberately echoes Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, even having Belfort deliver a speech rich in evocations of the “greed is good” monologue in Stone’s movie.
But The Wolf of Wall Street still feels like a movie that wants us in some sneaky way to admire Belfort. The fine, smaller film Boiler Room covered some of the same ground as Wolf but also made clear that there were victims in these financial schemes — that people were losing their savings and homes when they invested with the unscrupulous.
Wolf ignores the victims. In addition, its only moral compass is a determined federal agent (Kyle Chandler) — and even he is aware of how modestly he has to live in comparison to Belfort.
Sure, we see Belfort nose-deep in drugs, at risk to his own life. Sure, we see that even when prison looms, he loves his game and success too much to walk quietly away. Of course, you can watch this side by side with the latest version of The Great Gatsby, also starring DiCaprio, and ponder the ways in which success has been so damaging to some over the years. But DiCaprio still makes Belfort a charismatic, spellbinding figure, someone who can lead almost anyone into the least ethical circumstances with the promise of gain and the chance to be just like him.
DiCaprio is indeed the movie’s greatest strength. But he moves through murky territory and navigates scenes which have made their point long before Scorsese has said “cut.” So The Wolf of Wall Street is at times painfully overlong, seemingly convinced that there’s one viewer in the back row of a theater who will not get the point unless the movie hammers it home one more time. I have to stop short of calling it a terrible film — but I can assure you that it is a terribly unsatisfying one.
And what makes this all the more frustrating is that the DVD and Blu-ray of such a huge film contain only one extra: a making-of piece.
Other items of note on Tuesday:
Wonderwall: Collector’s Edition (Fabulous, $19.97 DVD, $24.97 Blu-ray) is a movie I knew far more from the soundtrack: music by George Harrison that formed the first LP released by the Beatles’ Apple Records. But there’s also the film that Video Hound’s Groovy Movies calls “wondrously hallucinatory” as it applies ’60s sensibilities to a tale of a professor spying on his pretty neighbor, The package includes both the theatrical release and a revised director’s cut.
Comedy Central stars Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele show their skills again in Key & Peele: Seasons 1 & 2 (Paramount, $22.98 DVD, $24.99 Blu-ray). Both seasons have been previously released separately.
Musician and writer Kathleen Hanna is the subject of The Punk Singer (IFC, $24.98 DVD), a widely praised documentary drawing on interviews (including with Hanna) and archival footage.
Down video road: William Friedkin’s Sorcerer makes its Blu-ray debut in remastered form on April 22. Oscar-winning documentary Hearts and Minds gets the Criterion treatment on DVD and Blu-ray on June 17. True Blood: The Complete Sixth Season arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on June 3. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit will be on DVD and Blu-ray on June 10.
Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including the HeldenFiles Online blog, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or email@example.com.