But the film does get that across very clearly. The film goes out of it's way and spends a lot of time setting up the idea that Belfort is a minor league player in Wall Street. Several times this is mentioned, but more than that, it's established that no one in his team is particularly smart. The film takes a comedy tone to it, and it starts with the assembling of Belfort's team. They're all shown like dumb and ignorant. As Belfort says at some point: "they were not smart, but who in their right minds would trust these clowns?", or something like that. When the FBI agent talks with him for the first time, he spends a lot of time saying that he is just one of the small guys, and at other points he mentions how the big guys on Wall Street look down on him and his company.
Okay you're right, I do remember him saying that. My complaint is more about the tone the picture takes, though. The comedy angle seems the right route, but although I was laughing, it wasn't at the idea of Jordan's lack of self-awareness -- which is what comes across in that YouTube video of him speaking on the previous page. Something like Soderbergh's The Informant with more outright debauchery seems like a more appropriate comedic tone to take with this story. Not that I expect most to agree...the movie is definitely funny, though for other reasons, and it's getting a lot of love that way.
There's a disconnect in the presentation of his underlings and of Jordan himself. If we're to believe they're stupid, which he says they are, and as they're shown to be, then Jordan's salesmanship should come across as a con only those he has contempt for would buy into. I can see the argument that the film has contempt for the United States as a whole, letting our society get to this point, but that's not the issue here. Jordan's sales pitches are played so directly, so much without irony, that they're played TO US -- we're asked to buy into them. We're asked to align ourselves with his blatantly stupid employees, but putting a road marker here telling us we're stupid if we do prevents us from identifying, and prevents us from the resulting complicity that would make the movie more compelling.
this moral ambivalence bothers people. and some have said that such an ugly view of humanity makes the film unworthy. scorsese pulls no punches here. this is why the film reminded me of bu˝uel. like the characters in the exterminating angel, trapped in a house dinner absurdly unable to leave, these people seem to be trapped in a loop of debauchery and pointless satisfactions, with no end. the difference is, they don't even want to get out. but they are not alone. every character in the movie (with two notable exceptions) is presented as happily within this greed loop. the "victims" of belfort's fraud are not talked about like innocent and naive, they all want to get rich quickly.
the philosophy is: it's easy to do wrong if you never see the consequences. but what is scorsese aiming at with this? by the end, when he switches the tables on us, the final shot is a mirror for the audience, for us. people have complained about the lack of moral judgement within the film, but the film is extremely harsh not on belfort but on us, on everyone. on the system, the society that permits this. he very clearly says: "I was terrified of going to jail, but then I remembered I was rich, and I live in a place where you can sell anything". the cynicism, this level of it, this anger, is a new element that I don't think scorsese touched upon before. even travis bickle had good intentions. this time, there is no salvation. belfort is back from jail at the end and he has an audience eager to learn from him.
I don't disagree with you here, all salient points. The moral ambivalence didn't bother me. It's obvious the film and filmmakers aren't condoning their character's behavior. All the rah-rah and up-in-arms nonsense about that aspect has me scratching my head (are people this dense?)
there's a scene in the first part of the picture when a female employee is offered 10, 000 dollars for shaving her head. she agrees, and the whole scene is presented as a grotesque spectacle of dehumanization. of course, the scene is a clear reference to the passion of joan arc. in that scene, in that movie, joan of arc gets her head shaven as an act of submission, and she endures it (despite the fact it amounts to a sexual violation) as a way to preserve her beliefs, her honor and her principles. the employee here, does it for the money, for breast implants. and the scene (as "fun" as it is portrayed, quickly shows it's ugly side, as we watch the hopeless face of the employee, not even realizing the full extent of her humiliation, too busy counting her money to care). like bu˝uel in viridiana, los olvidados, discreet charm, phantom of liberty and many of his masterpieces, scorsese doesn't see anyone as innocent. everyone remembers how bu˝uel went after the bourgeoisie, but he was equally ruthless with the poor. scorsese does something similar.
That was a great scene. And really fantastic observations on your part. I didn't notice the connection to Joan. You put this perfectly.
Now on to the bad.
There are three main things that irked me about Wolf...
-The shot structure felt lazy and excessively simple compared to Scorsese's past movies. I know he was working with Innaritu's DP this go-around so maybe that had something to do with the difference (though Scorsese ceding much control over shots to a DP seems unlikely at best), but many of the Casino type stylistic flourishes where there's something like a fast dolly into a telephone keypad as a character dials felt like a less talented filmmaker trying to "do Scorsese" and coming up short. Whereas in a past Scorsese movie midway through that kind of dolly move it might have cut into a more close-up version of the same shot as it landed on the keypad to accentuate the frantic state of mind, in this movie it was just the one shot the whole move in...it seemed watered down and simplified, basically imitative of his earlier style, because (it seemed) there wasn't as much passion for the material in the mix. He's spoken about DiCaprio having to talk him into returning to the project, and I felt that his hesitation to commit came across in the direction. Not that Boogie Nights is bad, it's great, but you can see this more simple shot structure attempting to be Casino in that movie, too. There, even though a watered down version of its template, it seems to work for the material. Here it felt like Scorsese failing at his own schtick. Coming from the man himself, it felt flaccid when I expected all guns blazing.
-The pacing is FUCKED. For the first half hour I felt like I was watching a workprint. Scorsese and Schoonmaker have spoken about trying to experiment with Jordan's drugged up headspace, the stop and start sometimes without reason, but for me it just didn't work. Schoonmaker also mentioned that they usually have 12 test screenings before they release a picture and this time only having 6, so maybe that also had something to do with it.
the thing is, the film is told from his point of view, and he is an unreliable narrator. early on, there's a shot of his car, and in the middle of the shot the car changes colors because he says so. so from his point of view, he is this big shot, and even within this frame of mind, the film manages to let you in on the fact that whatever he says, you can't really believe everything. belfort's narration is sneaky. he paints any picture that suits his points. he's a pep talker that never rests. his main success is convincing himself of his own greatness. so everything he says is probably hiding a darker, painful truth.
All those speeches where he pumps up his employees felt inadvertantly douchey when I wanted to feel seduced by his salesmanship. It was all so transparent but the transparency didn't work to underline the idea that Jordan is a conman or deluded by his own success, it seemed to underline the failing of the movie to sell me on Jordan's talent in the first place.
And this may be me not remembering but I could swear the voice over was more on the nose than you're describing.
The seduction that was
occurring was all thanks to the Price Is Right exhibition of the lifestyle and objects you could have if you got filthy rich: drugs, parties, property, women, etc., making Jordan himself a replaceable character.
the film, actually, tellingly avoids showing his wrongdoings for the most part. this endless party must have some victims, but he is unable to show you them. there is a great small moment, when he talks about a coworker who marries a sales assistant that had a sexual encounters with everyone else in the office (he says the guy married her "despite" this), and he mentions that a couple of years later the guy in question killed himself in the shower, and there is an all too brief cut to a still of this moment: a bathtub soaked in blood. it's a rare image within this film, and it's one the narrator can't get away from too quickly. it's shown there for a second and it goes. later, when belfort has a gruesome fight with his wife and punches her in the gut, the action takes place almost in the background. scorsese has never shied away from showing violence, or domestic violence. but here it's like he, and his character, doesn't want us to see it so upfront. but when it comes to party and drugs, we have full access. looking away from wrongdoings becomes our character's way of life and the point of view of the film.
That actually all sounds great, the way you're pitching it. I didn't feel that way in the theater, or I totally checked out. You've brought up some interesting aspects and I'll reserve judgment until a second viewing.
within scorsese's work it reminded me the most of casino. that's another film that was coldly received and criticized for being too long and repetitive. it took me several views to start appreciating it's richness in style and content. wouldn't be surprised if this one has the same effect on me.
I love Casino to death. It's completely visceral and makes its 3 hour running time feel like a 2 minute amusement park ride. I never forgot I was watching a movie with TWoWS, and when I escaped to the bathroom somewhere near the middle it struck me that I didn't care what I was missing and didn't mind how long it took me to get back. I'd never had that experience with a Scorsese picture before, ever.
That all said, the movie was very funny and I'll definitely watch it again with an open mind. The one scene that has stuck in my memory (SPOILERS
) is the bit after they're rescued from the sinking yacht and Jordan is sitting in the Italian's ship, looking between the storm outside through the porthole, and his wife and her friend dancing to Umberto Tozzi's "Gloria" inside. THAT was a Scorsese moment if I ever saw one. Now the song and that scene are forever married in my mind.