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The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Mangle the Sheep!

Due to a scheduling snafu, I was unable to attend an advanced screening of Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street a few weeks back. Sadly, my push to get Kicking the Seat's end-of-year awesomeness out the door has left me with no time to check it out, even on wide release. Fortunately, I received this little gem of a review/open letter to Scorsese in my mailbox this morning. It's flattering to think that a reader might place me and the maestro on the level of "BFF", but--for the record--we don't actually know each other.

Transcribed here, in the sincerest holiday hopes that Mr. Scorsese might find these insights and take them to heart, is a lengthy missive from one Mrs. Mavis June Peeples, of Segausett, Fla.

Dear Mr. Scorsese...

I'm writing to let you know my thoughts on your abhorrent new motion picture, The Wolf of Wall Street. I'm no prude, you must understand: for decades, my husband Jackie and I have supported and adored "cutting edge" films. From A Clockwork Orange and Scarface, to Requiem for a Dream and your magnum opus of an organized crime drama, Goodfellas, we enjoy a well-told morality tale, even if we don't agree with the depiction of the so-called protagonist's lifestyle choices. But this Wolf business is a bridge too far in its depiction of greed and excess run amok.

To drive my point home, half the group I saw your movie with the other day walked out--including Betty Steimetz. That name doesn't mean anything to you, but her Requiem for a Dream candle party made the Sunset Gazette's "Citizens of Seniority" page back in 2000 (i.e. she's also a pretty unflappable gal).

Since I'd like you to read this entire letter, let me start with a spoonful of sugar, so to speak, to help the medicine go down. Leonardo DiCaprio is phenomenal in this. Why the Academy has refused to recognize his talents for the last decade-plus is beyond me and everyone in our Sunday Movie Club. This Jordan Belfort character, though, may be a career best. He so thoroughly commits to the part that I didn't see him as "that lovely boy from Titanic", but as a genuine-article scumbag. Other movie stars beg for legitimacy, like that godawful Tom Cruise, but Mr. DiCaprio honestly appears to be on drugs in your film. Is he okay, by the way?

I was also floored by Matthew McConaughey, who, in a single ten-minute scene, set up the entire storyline and told the audience exactly what we were in for (shame on us, I guess, for not believing him). As Belfort's charismatic, creepy robot of a boss, he lays the foundation not only for the film, but for the reason this country's financial system is in such a shambles. And he does it with a smile, a wink, and a vial of cocaine he whips out as casually as a roll of breath mints. He's so seductive, it's easy to understand how the wide-eyed, only-slightly-corrupt-at-this-point Belfort would follow him into a world of criminal depravity.

In fact, everyone in your cast was spot-on, even Margot Robbie as Belfort's sexy second wife, Naomi. I thought for sure she'd just be another Brooklyn Decker type, but she's got real sass and chops (but did we really need to see her camel fingers, you naughty, naughty old man?). And that Kyle Chandler! Between this and The Spectacular Now, he's had a great year playing everyday men with big problems. That last shot of him on the subway--oh, I still get chills!

And, of course, your movie looks great and has a lovely use of songs to underscore the action. But that's like saying my ice water was extra watery this morning. You're a tremendous talent, Mr. Scorsese, which is why I can't understand why you'd waste such gifts on such a grotesque bacchanal.

The Wolf of Wall Street is exactly what's wrong with today's culture. It celebrates the easy way to the top and makes everything look glamorous. Unlimited drugs, gorgeous prostitutes, yachts, mansions, and enough hundred-dollar bills to literally throw away on a whim--these are the things your movie celebrates. I understand the desire to showcase this, to a certain extent, but at just under three hours, this thing crosses some kind of line.

You and your screenwriter, Terence Winter, would likely say that only the first hour is really debaucherous, and that the next two are a gradual slide into madness, tragedy, and consequence. But will little kids and teenagers grasp that? I know it's an "R" movie, but that won't keep parents from letting their children see this trash and be influenced by it. These days, youngsters are raised in a complete authority vacuum, it seems to me, and we as a society must do everything possible to help adults shield them from ambiguous material. I thought you, of all people, would understand that.

I mean, in your classic film, Goodfellas, Ray Liotta narrated his rise and fall to the audience--detailing a life of conning people to make easy money and hanging out with dangerous criminal types. His story seemed glamorous until the FBI began tailing him and tapping his phones, and his crazed wife got fed up with his infidelity and drug-crazed outbursts. That real life story also ended with a tell-all book and a movie. But there was something...different about Goodfellas that made it...different from The Wolf of Wall Street, even though they have basically the same story structure and resolution. I can't explain it, but it's there.

Come to think of it, that's not true. In Goodfellas, the Liotta character didn't rub people's faces in how much money he had, and he only swindled people in his neighborhood. Wolf is all about the grand scale of Belfort and his gross little cronies deceiving people all over this great nation of ours into buying junk stocks. They sold these poor people the dream of getting rich quick; even though they convinced them all too easily to invest their life savings with complete strangers (on companies and schemes they never bothered to research or understand), these smooth-talkers were completely responsible for ruining the lives of millions of innocent victims. You and Mr. Winters probably think you're very clever by having your characters frequently bring up how their lifestyle would not have been possible in lieu of ignorant, willing participants, don't you?

How do you sleep at night, Mr. Scorsese, knowing that you've so completely glamorized an unrepentant monster? Sure, Belfort is often seen as sweaty, insecure, miserable, high on a cocktail of drugs, and open to debasing himself just to feel something resembling a positive emotion--but don't you see how attractive that is to people? You're sending the exact wrong message to your audience about the world of finance.

These people just have so much money, and they spend years forging fake relationships, making thousands upon thousands of phone calls, and never taking a break. And then you have the nerve to close your film with a seminar in which Belfort, fresh out of prison, takes to a stage at a sales seminar to share his secrets with a roomful of unsuspecting, everyday folks. To suggest that the problem rests not with the Jordan Belforts of the world, but with the uninformed, tax-paying citizens whose broken backs make up the very seats of power on which they rest--well, that's the height of irresponsibility, sir!

I guess we should all work hard, sacrifice, save, and pursue careers that might actually make us money, if we're so intent on having nice things. Is that what you're suggesting? While I suppose it's technically possible to become wealthy in the "land of opportunity" without conning people, you and I both know that the number who do so is so small as to be practically immeasurable. Are you deaf to the cries of the garbage man and school teacher who cry out, "Why should they have millions of dollars, and not me?"

Apparently so, Mr. Scorsese, and I can't tell you how disappointed I am in you. The Wolf of Wall Street has no moral center and, worse yet, horrifically tries to share the blame not only between these schemers and their victims, but the audience as well. If you're really as Catholic as they say you are, sir, I sincerely hope you pray for your fragile, immortal soul. I certainly will, in between cries of protest against your trashy, evil little movie.

Good day, and God bless.

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