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The Wolf of Wall Street: Martin Scorcese needs an editor

martin19122013Watching the film The Wolf of Wall Street on New Year’s Day, I felt deceived.

During those three long hours (plus 26 minutes of coming attractions) my mind kept drifting from the plot about excessive fraud, to the excessiveness of the film’s director Martin Scorcese.

The film is based on the life of con man Jordan Belfort, adapted from his autobiographical book. After being laid off as a stock broker on Black Monday in 1987, Belfort took to pump and dump schemes — selling worthless penny stocks to investors and making millions in the process. He lived a jetsetting drug-induced lifestyle with his ill gotten gains, until he got caught and arrested by the FBI.

The rise and fall of an American con artist is a great story for a great film. With a great director in charge, it seems like a home run. Throw in Leonardo DiCaprio to play the lead and it screams monster hit. Instead, it’s just a long out.

Boasting a $90 million price tag, Scorcese misguidedly treated the film as if it was an epic on the scale of something like Gone With the Wind.  But while it’s far from epic, there are an epic number of F-bombs in the film – 506 to be exact according to the Daily Mail. So there’s that, I guess.

Joanna Lumley and Leonardo DiCaprio in a scene from The Wolf of Wall Street.

Joanna Lumley and Leonardo DiCaprio in a scene from The Wolf of Wall Street.

As each superfluous and excessive shot rolled by I felt as used as one of Belfort’s victims – giving my hard earned cash to benefit someone who spent it on his own lavish wantonness.

The film has shots of The Pool Room at the Four Seasons restaurant, the über exclusive Rao’s, and the Trump Tower. None of which added one iota to the storyline. There was also a notable scene on a luxury yacht that while lovely to look at, had nothing to do with the book the film was based on. The FBI never visited Belfort on his yacht. But what the heck, it’s New York, and when you’ve got $90 million you can film whatever you want.

The film also has a huge overabundance of sex and drug scenes. A few would have been fine, and the quaalude scene was dazzlingly brilliant, but the audience really got the point with the very first cut of Belfort having a drugfest on a prostitute’s bottom.

So many scenes felt like filler, like Scorcese ran out of things to say so he loaded the film with T&A shots. And yet, he couldn’t find room for one scene, just one scene of any of Belfort’s victims. The plumber who lost his life savings buying into one of Belfort’s sleazy schemes? No room for that? Too real?

And the whole “butler” storyline? It seemed like just an excuse to give Scorcese the chance to do his signature “ugly beating” scene.

My mind kept drifting, and then it dawned on me! I’d seen this film before. It was Casino all over again, but with Leonardo DiCaprio as Robert DeNiro, Jonah Hill as Joe Pesci, and Margot Robbie as Sharon Stone. Just a formulaic copy, sigh.

Off screen, trouble with the picture’s length reared its ugly head in November, when the release date was postponed from Nov. 15 to Christmas Day in order to give Scorcese time to shorten the film from four hours to three, and cut nude scenes. Although every part of a woman can be seen in the film, full frontal shots of Leo and Jean Dujardin would have earned the pic an NC-17 rating (box office poison), so the film was cut to bring the rating down to a more palatable R rating.

I can just imagine the full four hour director’s cut of this film — Scorcese’s own Caligula.

That said, there are some very good things in Wolf, excellent performances by Leo, Jonah, Margot, and fun appearances by Rob Reiner and Joanna Lumley were very enjoyable. And there was that quaalude scene… Wolf will be remembered at Oscar time.

The real problem was editing. It seems like directors as exulted as Martin Scorcese and Steven Spielberg can do whatever they want on film and no one dare say “stop.”

Spielberg destroyed one of my favorite plays War Horse, by smothering the life out of it on the screen. And Scorcese is now just copying himself and rambling. Both men are film geniuses. But they need to get back to making real films. Real soon.

The official trailer below for Wolf pretty much sums up the entire film, but it’s deceptive too. You might think Matthew McConaughey has a significant role. He doesn’t. But what the heck, you need people to go see it right? So you do whatever you need to do to sell it.

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