As a Martin Scorsese fan from the moment this once impressionable thirteen year old mind first caught a glimpse of Taxi Driver on late night TV more than thirty years ago, it is with great sadness (and possibly some quite furious anger) that I must state the following: I did not like The Wolf of Wall Street. That's right kids, this long-avowed Scorsese fan did not like the director's latest film. Now sure, there have been other Scorsese films over the years of which I have not been the biggest fan. Films such as The Age of Innocence, Kundun, The Aviator. The Color of Money, even The Last Temptation of Christ, are all Scorsese films that have less than tickled this critic's fancy, but none of these films seemed as great a disappointment as did The Wolf of Wall Street when I saw it just two days ago. Sure, when a man makes no less than five masterpieces in his career, you can certainly cut the guy some slack every once and a while, but even so, the utter disappointment is still there - in fucking spades.
Now others who have panned the film (and we seem to be a minority) have done so due to what they call an excess of sex and drugs and overall immorality. To that I say, bah! The film, being about the life and times and exploits of a greedy, repulsive, money-hungry, drug-engorged, sex-addicted asshole of a human being, is a movie about excess, and therefore should be an excessive film. Add to that the typical excess of Scorsese's auteur style, and the film is bound to go over the top. This however, is not my problem with the film. My problem is that I found all this excess (and everything else) to be utterly and deliriously banal as all get out, or should I say, as this film takes the coveted bronze medal in f-bomb movies, banal as all fuck. Yes indeedy, the first forty minutes or so are actually rather entertaining. Watching the first act of this film is like watching the Scorsese you know and love. Perhaps not the Scorsese of Taxi Driver or Goodfellas, but at the very least, the Scorsese of Casino and After Hours. But alas, then comes the second hour, and then the third, and now any and all love of Scorsese has flown out the proverbial window, only to be replaced with some sort of godawful feeling of despair and outright anger.
Granted, the film does entertain with several quite cinematic Scorsese moments, as well as the director's loving penchant for recruiting re-imagined imagery from everything from The Red Shoes to Hitchcock to Citizen Kane. Moments that make us remember just why we get so damn excited every time the man releases a new film. But alas poor moviegoers, this is not that Martin Scorsese. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a different animal altogether. This is a director that has gotten lazy. A director that has maybe forgotten what it means to be Martin Scorsese - though since his last two films, the unfairly maligned genre deconstruction of Shutter Island, and the brilliantly filmic nostalgia called Hugo, were a collective upswing from other recent work, this is a theory that really holds no water. So what is it then? Frustration in a new digital age? The fact that one can not help but compare the filmmaker's muses, and let's face it, the mediocrity of Leonardo DiCaprio as an actor could never hold up in comparison to one Mr. Bobby De Niro. No, it must be something deeper that that. Or perhaps not. Perhaps The Wolf of Wall Street is merely a blip in a career that, as I said before, has created at least five masterpieces, and several more near ones as well. With the recent release of David O. Russell's Goodfellas-esque American Hustle, my wife said to me, "it's as if two different directors tried to make a Martin Scorsese film this year, and it was Martin Scorsese who wound up the loser." Now I think I'm going to go watch Taxi Driver again.