Some Ramblings - The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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Oscar Bait
Fall...trees start turning their colored coats inside out and eventually shed their old wear and gear clearing out their warehouses in what becomes their final blowout season... Coincidentally, it is also time when movie studios bring their artsy features out of the closet, ones that they have held out until the hoarse-y summer's din died down. So snuggle up in the fall jackets and settle down for the Oscar fare where the sensitive battle it out with the subtle, where strong stories stake their ground out in the fertile land of varied imaginations....

Start, or better, move into, an enterprise that has its roots steeped in greed. Find the nooks and crannies in it where the light of law doesn’t shine bright. Then start channeling, funneling, skimming, dipping and routing to ultimately make the illegal slush vanish in thin air. Sit back and watch the money grow manifold. The sad part of this genius operation is the inability to stay low and contended. The lifestyle start sky rocketing from its humble beginnings - clothes, cars, jewelry, houses, mansions, yachts and as though this isn’t vulgar enough, buying millions of dollars worth art (even if is the fake kind), overindulgence in gambling and hallucinogenic chemicals. Somehow, through an innocuous slip of the tongue or a casual oversight somewhere of the key element that built the whole thing from the ground up, the enterprise attracts unwanted attention from the investigative agencies. Tongues start wagging and heads start rolling. That which was considered to be infallible and indestructible till then starts to unravel at its most vulnerable and unexpected quarters. And before long, the mighty operation is brought down to its knees. The enterprise could be anything - mafia, casinos, illegal stock/insider trading, trade unions, government corruption. Take any organization that involves some combination of power, money and greed. The playbook of all these organizations that rose high in their heyday and fell hard on their judgment days, more or less, read similar moves and motivations - the rapacious need to have it all and the never ending greed to have it all forever. Call them Bernie Madoff, Jack Abramoff, Marc Rich, Jimmy Hoffa or Henry Hill, or the person in question, Jordan Belfort, every game is played out to the same disastrous result. The problem with all these schemes and rackets going kaput once they reach their sell by date is laid out in the words of the character of the movie - “Earlier this country used to make something, now we only sell things’. And where better to built these castles of dreams on the streets littered with worthless paper - Wall Street.

‘Wolf of Wall Street’ is the funniest movie in the last few years on the gravest of subject matters that involves destruction of lives and careers. It is not a particularly original theme (even when based on an autobiography) including the motivational speeches and the heart of the trade - peddling of worthless stock to unwitting victims - which have been handled better in movies like ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ (ABC - Always Be Closing) and ‘Boiler Room’ (which introduced the concept of pushing penny stocks to middle class passive investors, making huge rips (commissions) in the process, for the first time). What is particularly interesting with ‘Wolf’ is the setting of the tone of the movie as being an outright farcical one instead of the usual serious and subdued one that its subject mandates. It is akin to making a comedy, however dark or black, out of the once Cold War that quickly disintegrates into nuclear holocaust in ‘Dr. Strangelove’. Never are the events involving mind altering chemicals and driving on the road in the costliest of cars more belly achingly funny that when it happened to real people in real life, as recounted in the movie. The actors (Leo DeCaprio and Jonah Hill) fling themselves heads first into many such ‘these couldn’t had happened really! could they??’ situations play them both straight, and when needed, way over the top. The real life counterparts are not particularly likable, not entirely bright (except in matters involving selling) and overall have no redeeming traits to qualify them as human beings. But in the eyes of the narrator (since it is an autobiography), the characters see themselves as entrepreneurs, who don’t particularly pay any attention to the lives and the graves their empires are built on. This is not a morality tale nor a cautionary tale. This is one of incredulity, the kind where the jaws drop at the news of million dollar mink coats, and ten times more worth yachts that the Madoffs splurged in on OPM (other people’s money), or the thousands of pairs of shoes that Imelda Marcos collected during the reign of her husband as the President of Philippines.

For Scorsese, this is a redux (or three-dux) of similar subject matter he tackled in ‘Goodfellas’ (with the mafia) and ‘Casino (with the, well…), portraying the rise of the wide eyed and the fall of the weary eyed, replete with the dazzle of the riches and the daze of the drugs. The three things that sets ‘Wolf’ apart from the rest of the pack are something that he had never attempted in his illustrious career thus far - indulge in lengthy monologues, trust in the static nature of his camera and go all out on the ego trip of an autobiography by essentially mocking the material in the most irreverent of tones. He has no sympathy for his protagonist, only deep seated disdain. And that is exactly what he excepts of his audience - to laugh at the characters, not with them. This is a retelling of age old tale of greed - both on the demand and supply sides, for as long as there are lambs out there bleating for better deals, there always will be….

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