Hah! Nope!

Contrary to Glenn Kenny‘s belief, The Wire‘s Esther Zuckerman hasn’t panned The Wolf of Wall Street. She calls it “a well-acted, well-directed, well-written film.” She just can’t roll with the bacchanalian debauchery that constitutes a good portion of its length. She’s ethically offended, in short, warning that Martin Scorsese‘s film “will be idolized for all the wrong reasons.” She’s entitled to her view, of course, but she’s aligning herself with the harumphs who’ve been dissing it for all the wrong reasons. “I guess, at the tender age of 23, I’m just an old fogey,” she writes within air quotes, “but Wolf left me feeling sick to my stomach, and not because the movie condemned [Jordan] Belfort‘s world, but because it seemed to love it.”

Zuckerman tries to make it sound like I’m primarily approving of Wolf because it allowed me to revisit my irresponsible druggie days. That was a portion of it, yeah, but not the bedrock. She needs to re-read what I said, and also take a gander at my HE Sink-In piece about Wolf that appeared last night.

I’ll lay it out again. The film gives viewers a series of euphoric charges (unless you’re Zuckerman or Lou Lumenick or David Denby) and then throws it back in our laps and says, “Really? This is what you are? This is what you really want?” The very last shot in the film, which Zuckerman doesn’t mention, is Scorsese’s final statement.

The Wolf of Wall Street strategy is twofold. One, to make a clear moral point about Belfort and his buddies being (a) bad guys and (b) metaphors for the giddy indulgence of the general Wall Street crowd and the one-percenters who’ve benefitted from the concentration of wealth and depletion of a strong middle-class (which has been happening since the ’80s but especially over the last 15 years, and which is pointed out in spades by Inequality For All). And two, to try and seduce the audience in the same way Belfort seduced his employees and his dumb sucker clients. Rather than deliver a moralistic lecture piece, which Scorsese obviously could have done if he thought that would work, he decided to put the audience into Belfort’s shoes and make them grappple with the issue on a gut level.

And if she doesn’t like that explanation, Zuckerman could listen to what Wolf costar Matthew McConaughey said earlier today at the Four Seasons luncheon in Manhattan. (Thanks again to Bill McCuddy for sending this and two other quotes to me earlier today.)

  • George Prager

    THE LAST DETAIL is about a thief who gets to have fun, drink alcohol, learn valuable life lessons, and lose his virginity before he goes to prison to serve his punishment for stealing. Good Heavens! This movie is vile, immoral!

  • http://jessecrall.wordpress.com/ Jesse Crall

    Oh for chrissakes…First off, rule #1 for an actor is to justify, not judge. So if DiCaprio and company weren’t condemning the on-screen actions, it’s because they’re doing their jobs properly. Yeah, I want a morality play in which every line of coke is scored with ominous strings. And how about a wise old man who comments on the debauchery at every interval and ends the movie shaking his head sadly, the last man standing amidst the ruin?

    How many Hollywood flicks spoon-feed their messages and create shallow, overt examples of good & evil a la Man O’ Steel? Fuck that, I want some ambiguity, some time spent on the dark side, some explorations of greed and excess that ARE VERY PRESENT IN OUR CULTURE. Oh, a guy cheated a lied and stole and fucked around and keyed up? And he had a good time doing it? That’s pretty goddamn fascinating if you set inside a well-crafted, committed universe that takes audiences somewhere new.

    I’m also 23, I don’t do drugs, and I’m unemployed. And there hasn’t been a single movie released this year that I want to see more than WOLF.

  • Topher0820

    “I get it but OTHERS will take it the wrong way” is the ultimate arrogant moral BS play

  • pizan܍amore

    I’ve heard The Godfather described as a metaphor for capitalism, but not as a metaphor for other gangsters.

    This film looks like a fun ride!

    • http://www.hollywood-elsewhere.com/ Jeffrey Wells

      I accepted that The Godfather could be taken as a metaphor for capitalism — I had no strong argument against that — but it mainly seemed to me to be about family and tradition and blood ties. I also think that taken together The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II were about how family ties and loyalty and tradition were much stronger in the immediate post-WWII era and that the threads started to fray by the time the late ’50s rolled around. For all his flaws and murderous activity Vito Corleone built the business from the ground up and sired the family and protected his people and instilled family values (“Moustache Pete” Mafia values, I mean), and then it all began to gradually fray and fall apart when Sonny and Michael took charge. “Times are changing,” as Michael said to Momma Corleone one afternoon in his Lake Tahoe estate.

      • pizan܍amore

        So…was it a metaphor for family and tradition and blood ties? Or an examination of it? Or was the examination of family a metaphor for tradition and vice versa?

        Coppola’s words:
        “the Mafia is only a metaphor for America and capitalism”

        But I was really just using The Godfather like a metaphor for Wolf, which is to say I’m that analogy as a simile of the metaphor.

      • Mr. F.

        And taken by itself, THE GODFATHER PART III was about how family ties and loyalty lead to miscasting.

      • brenkilco

        Michael’s eventual destruction of his own family when his professed aim is to preserve it is the ultimate irony of the films and the seeds of this inevitable end are present from the beginning. That’s one of the reasons the two films, despite the fact that the second was made only because of the first’s success, function so beautifully as an organic whole. The third, where Coppola seeks to rehab Michael, is best ignored.

  • roland1824

    Look out – her “douchebag’s handbook” tag is a catchy line that might catch on. Especially because Leo gets that a lot in his real life.

  • Awardsdaily

    You know, that’s fine – she’s entitled to her opinion. But let’s lay it out more plainly what we expect from our artists and the kinds of worlds they are expected to depict. Are we now saying that every movie must reflect humanity in a good light? Must every film that doesn’t somehow make a blatant effort to shame those characters? I never saw this film as a celebration of a certain lifestyle but you know, at 48, I’ve lived long enough to know that this layer of America not only exists but is something many people strive for. What happened a few years back with the crooks on Wall Street — those guys aren’t out of control enough to ever be Jordan Belfort. But he tried to be those guys – he tried to play that game and win. No, it isn’t 12 Years a Slave. It isn’t The Butler. It isn’t Captain Phillips. It isn’t earnest in any regard — but people who love the movie that I know aren’t loving it because of what it celebrates but because of what it exposes. That, and it’s brilliant. Please let there still be room for stories like this, filmmakers like this – otherwise, we’re done for.

    • Tucker Dimpy

      Jesus Christ Sasha, get a grip!

    • Bernie

      I think you’re being disingenuous, Sasha. On one hand you imply that artists like Scorsese should be able to portray corrupt worlds, with despicable characters and actions without any overt sense of moral underpinnings, shame, comeuppance, etc. Fine. But then you say you took away from the movie the notion that it was a blatant indictment of the “vomitous ruin” that financially devastated this country. That’s a huge moral takeaway.

      What I’m suggesting is that if you DIDN’T see the film within that historical moral context, you would have a serious problem with this movie. Like Zuckerman.

      I’m sorry but serious filmgoers expect serious artists of Scorsese’s caliber (which there are few) to make films with an element of meaning and a sense of morality. I have no doubt that was his intention. Whether he succeeded is debatable.

  • Kano’s_Razor


    Is this about the eight millionth example of Wells not giving The Wire the credit it truly deserves, or what?

  • Steven Gaydos

    Jordan Belfort and Ron Burgundy are the same guy. I haven’t read your review of Anchorman II yet, but with this knowledge, I now look forward to it.

    • http://www.hollywood-elsewhere.com/ Jeffrey Wells

      I missed the Burbank all-media. That’s it. I wouldn’t pay a dollar to see that film. Piss on it.

  • Jeff

    Hmmm…. I say this with respect but I am not sure that the critical film opinion of a 23 yr is entirely relevant to me at this juncture of my life, specifically when it comes to movies of moral ambiguity. I remember being 23 with a degree in film criticism, there is a lot more out there wildly unexplored and moral judgements tend to be much easier to make. She has an amazing educational background and works for a respectable company but ummmm yeah 23. This review works within the context of other reviewers to give a different generational perspective but Millennials have a much more pronounced sensitive side and tend to be horrified by mean or fratty/bro antics(specifically someone whose background reads Harvard/Westlake, Yale, Village Voice.)

    • Ray Quick

      Late to this, but interesting and very true point about millennials and younger critics… This applies to the arisp/Joe convo above too, but I think there are interesting and valid writing styles to be had from “younger” critics and viewers…. Hell, I bluffed my way through a film studies degree by 22 even though I summarily rejected the whole “movies reflecting their sociohistorical time” throughline that they force upon film students, and used to spin superlatives-laden capsules for my high school paper starting at 14. But I do find, for better or worse, a lot of the “young” critics of today are this weird mix of overly cerebral/detached (explained by relative proximity to academia) AND now have this post-Armond obsession with humanism and political correctness. In weird ways, the Millennial film fans I know or read, you’re always between a rock or hard place… They’re more easily offended by content and nihilism than even some “old man” critics…. yet also have a sociopathic resistance to any warmth or earnestness in film. It’s why places like Slant or crix like Calum Marsh or Ignatiy are a little mystifying…. They’ll front like the most detached, scientific viewer…. then in the next review clamor for a type of redemoptive humanist religiosity from movies.

      It’s a sharp contrast from when I came up, when “geeks” were all about nihilism and blackness and got off on the charge of the corrupt– even in the Clintonian PC days when I was studying film, all the beardos were down the moral ambiguity and shock value of the movies of the time, be it Boyle or QT or Spike or Lynch. In a way that seemed truer to me to the interests of young people…. It;s weird to me how the Millennial generation, from the music to the movies, doesn’t seem to really “get off” on any ferocious or intense or disreputable… And the age comes into play; Like, filmically a movie can commit a zillion different sins, but if the “reviewer” has such limited life experience and such judgmental moral superiority, it comes off like they don’t have the real-life experiences and losses that shade a more thoughtful review. Just to pick something off the top of my head, I’m sure the MITTY reviews next week will be brutal from “young” reviewers, but what, really, does a 22-year-old NYU kid from academic parents and a trust fund REALLY know about middle-age ennui or living a life haunted by compromise? At 22, 23, everyone thinks they’re fucking invincible and oh-so-fucking-wise. I hated college kids when I went to college, I damn sure don’t need to read them DROPPING TO THE KNOWLEDGE to me when I’m 41.

      • Glenn Kenny

        There’s also an interesting correlative I’ve found: with few exceptions, the more obsessed or concerned with “humanism” a critic is in print, the nastier and more dismissive of actual humans he or she is in real life.

        • SlashMC

          nailed it.

        • http://www.hollywood-elsewhere.com/ Jeffrey Wells

          Excuse me, Glenn, but I am the very model of acceptance, compassion and understanding…with my own kind.
          Brilliant urban people of any shape or form. Writers, musicians, rebels, free-thinkers, iconooclasts, gays, lefties, neurotic showbusiness Jews, genius types, inventors, envelope-pushers, etc. I don’t see a problem.

        • Paul Marzagalli

          Glenn, you are so very right. The recent “Duck Dynasty” bruhaha is a recent example. The crap that I read on my social network feed was a hundred times nastier than anything the Duck Dynasty guy said, all of it from people that spend the other six days of the week moping about intolerance and preaching about some cause of the moment.

    • Brad

      “I guess, at the tender age of 23, I’m just an old fogey”.

      Christ, this is the most asshole comment I have read in a long time.

      • Ray Quick


  • arisp

    A 23 year old needs to live life a bit more before being a critic. Go away and get back to me in 15 years. Please

    • Joe Leydon

      Oh, I dunno. When I was 23, I had already written for professional publications for the better part of seven years, and reviewed the likes of CHINATOWN, SHAMPOO, THE GODFATHER PART II, BILLY JACK, and ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN.

      • arisp

        Joe – when you were 23, young people were WAY different than today’s spoiled brats. I would say, also, that reviewing film was taken a lot more seriously back then. Without even know you back then, i would pick your reviews over some 23 year old girl in a heartbeat.

      • Brad

        I am guessing that you had life experience, though. Reading this, does the critic sound like she has lived a single day of her life?

        • Joe Leydon

          Well, I will grant you this: At 23, I could look back on a few years I had spent worried about being drafted and sent to Vietnam.