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The Wolf of Wall Street: Dividing Audiences While Defining America’s Immoral Economic Moment



The best movies illicit a divisive reaction from both audiences and critics. This has been accurate in film history regarding the best of them from Psycho to Clockwork Orange to Fight Club to even last year’s The Master. Current case in point: Martin Scorsese’s 3 hour Wolf of Wall Street. Movies are meant to either entertain or to challenge. Sometimes both can happen, but when those elements merge, audiences have a mixed reaction. And how has the reaction to Wolf of Wall Street been? All over the place. It has been interesting to watch the debate unfold within the cinephile community. From the Twitter interactions to the elite pundits writing long winded essays as well as various movie bloggers chiming in, their is an opinion to be aired and a claim to be reconciled. The passionate user reviews from Flixster, LetterBoxd, and IMDB’s relatively high user rating are amusing to read spawning the future of new movies bloggers. And to think the best reaction American Hustle garners are explanations of both the hot (Amy Adam and Jennifer Lawrence) mess (Christian Bale’s gut and hair) of a plot as dumbfounded audiences try to connect the dots and decipher Oscar hype.


THE WOLF OF WALL STREETOpening on Christmas Day was not ideal for Wolf of Wall Street based on the soft opening (and inconsistent Holiday box office). The positive to mixed critical reaction and the perplexing C rated CinemaScore seem compliment the idea. That rating from CinemaScore is less than ideal from an awards campaign perspective just as much as that angry Academy member who scorned Mr. Scorsese a few weeks ago (looks like the liberal Academy does have a limit to tolerance. As I suspected from their love of The Help and The Blind Side, they are old fashioned and play it safe). Audiences could hate it more than the rating. At my advanced screening where someone typically claps at the end of any movie, NO ONE APPLAUDED! That’s a very bad sign! This movie shouldn’t have opened on Christmas, but the studio didn’t have a choice regarding editing the original rumored 4 to 5 hour running time to have it release in time to qualify for awards. People’s attitudes can change if the movie’s expectations are understood. After a post-Holidays third viewing, I think Wolf of Wall Street is better than the naysayers claim and is even finding an audience. I dragged some friends who didn’t want to go because of the negative reaction (including my CinemaScore supervisor who was convinced not to go). Both really liked it a lot! There was a similar reaction when Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remake opened around Christmas. It didn’t do well around Christmas but picked up in January. While audiences are divided, many are curious to watch it. Adults don’t rush out to see movies right away. Sometimes a big date night can be in January once the choas of the season has winded down.


Wolf of Wall Street is the most divisive movie of the year as well as one of 2013’s best (not all will agree). Obviously an excessive expose on depravity (with NC-17 amount of sex and even more drugs) as well as a thematic critique on evil intentions of abusing the capitalist system aren’t ideal subject matter for The Holidays. The studio either was going to open it on this date or wait next year. They gambled their chances and may have gotten burned for opening this during this time of year. Regardless of the visceral reaction, Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort is earth shattering in a career best performance. In a year of phenomenal work, it is 2013’s best leading actor role. There are moments where I wasn’t expecting Wolf of Wall Street to go especially a long scene where Mr. DiCaprio is under the influence of drugs. (Confession:  I cannot watch drug abuse scenes in any movie. It makes me ill. I have to look away. I cant look away from the trainwreck behavior on screen.) Just like the movie, he is an over-the-top, modern era Gatsby, a wily firecracker, but never dull. Also, the unexpected stunning supporting work for Jonah Hill (who I can’t stand) and Margo Robbie (in a breakthrough role) were both a pleasant surprise. What caught me off guard after multiple viewings was Margo Robbie. Though she is the victim of the controversial ‘rape’ scene, she uses her wit and especially her sexuality to constantly dominate Mr. Belfort even within the same scene. It is extraordinary. I may miss the mark with this comparison but I cannot help but this think: not since Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday has a loud, obnoxious, energetic, absorbing star-studded 3 hour movie offer a gritty & unorthodox peek behind a money hungry industry opened on Christmas. (And that divided critics, but I think Wolf of Wall Street will stand the test of time over Any Given Sunday.) Both out-of-control and dramatically engaging, Wolf of Wall Street seems to define America’s economic moment. Some rich Academy members just can’t handle great movies.




The allure to attain the riches of this world is tempting, but ultimately hollow. The negative reaction goes beyond the sex. I think a dark side of American attainment of wealth has been exposed. This is what Americans strive. We don’t like the end result. People freaked out especially with the sexuality. Maybe I’m just desensitized. The sexuality is graphic, the characters wretched, and the circumstances rancid. Business can be shady. (I wonder if Hollywood would ever make a movie where a hard working American makes an honest living by growing a business. Doubt it.)  This hit a nerve. It could be a combination of the time of year where more people attend church as well as people acquire possessions. Wolf of Wall Street isn’t for people who pray and consume. As someone who has wanted a better more comfortable life portrayed on that screen (nice house, fast car, beautiful woman), Wolf of Wall Street is an economic nightmare displayed with full throttle intensity of moral decay. Anyone who thinks Wolf of Wall Street glorifies the behavior really missed the point. The most frightening reaction to Wolf of Wall Street was the banking industry applauding the appalling during an advanced screening at the shameful moments. Their reaction is a snapshot to the downfall of America. This is  lawless, free market Capitalism unhinged. Some defend it as “freedom” while others like Pope Francis scorn it. The Business Insider article is very fascinating because one shouldn’t view Jordan Belfort that way. If the financial leaders are cheering this guy, than we have a BIG problem with Wall Street Bankers on our hands.


In the grand scheme of cinema, it is fitting Wolf of Wall Street could end up like this year’s Zero Dark Thirty in regards to awards momentum (not really winning anything) and cement itself in film history (considered a defining classic years from now). Appropriately I want to end with Katherine Bigelow’s quote about a filmmaker presenting a reality isn’t always an endorsement of behavior: “Those of us who work in the arts know that depiction is not endorsement. If it was, no artist would be able to paint inhumane practices, no author could write about them, and no filmmaker could delve into the thorny subjects of our time. This is an important principle to stand up for, and it bears repeating.”


So readers, do you think Wolf of Wall Street is a classic or a flash in the pan dud? Does it glorify the deviant behavior?



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