Wolf of Wall Street (US - BD RA)
Gabe wrote his first draft entirely in Quaalude speak. It was mostly vowels...
From the American dream to corporate greed, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) goes from penny stocks and righteousness to IPOs and a life of corruption in the late 80s. Excess success and affluence in his early twenties as founder of the brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont warranted Belfort the title ‘The Wolf of Wall Street.’ (From Paramount’s official synopsis)
Martin Scorsese has rarely been the type of filmmaker that makes movies for anyone but himself, but there was certainly a pattern of awards-friendly material coming out of his filmography in the ‘90s and early ‘00s. Age of Innocence, Kundun, Gangs of New York and (especially) The Aviator all feel like movies hungry for approval. It’s not ironic that The Departed finally won him Best Director and Best Picture statues, because everything about it felt like a greatest-hits package. It was a movie made to entertain, but also a movie that was made to remind us who Martin Scorsese is and what he is capable of. With his awards finally in hand, Scorsese’s career has taken another turn – he started experimenting again. For better or worse (I think better), his post- Departed movies are interesting even when they fail. He’s embracing gimmicks, like the twist at the end of his B-movie throwback, Shutter Island and the CG-heavy, 3D environments of his first family-friendly feature, Hugo. He’s having fun with the format and making movies with the vitality of a director one-third his age. His latest, The Wolf of Wall Street, kicks this second (third?) wind of devil-may-care filmmaking into overdrive, taking his already energetic Goodfellas template and pumping it up with a bit of After Hours-like absurdist mirth.
Unlike After Hours, The Wolf of Wall Street is based on a true story, leading one to assume it would be a tamer, more grounded movie, but such assumptions would be wrong. After Hours’ unlikely conspiracies and screwball plot twists are missing, but the real-life hijinks that replace them sometimes end up exceeding the imagined insanity. Is it all a little excessive, especially when liberally spread over a punishing 180 minutes? Yeah, it can be, but the sheer energy of the spectacle is enough to maintain an otherwise route tale of criminal transgression. Besides, this particular story is defined by excess and Scorsese has never been one to take criminal bio-pics overly seriously. Perhaps it was The Departed’s comparatively somber tone that compelled the Academy to finally award him, but the similarly crime-themed Mean Streets (note: not a ‘true story’) and Goodfellas are brimming with frivolity. I’d even argue that Goodfellas is primarily a comedy that only plays a handful of scenes with a completely straight face (the lack of hearty laughs has always kept Casino at arm’s length, as far as I’m concerned). Some of The Wolf of Wall Street’s obscenities are shocking, especially in the context of a critically lauded Oscar nominee, but the people that complained about the film’s lack of conscience appear to be willfully ignorant of similar ambiguities that define most of Scorsese’s movies – flamboyant and gloomy alike.
The film’s problem isn’t Scorsese and screenwriter Terence Winter’s refusal to condemn Belfort’s behavior or the fact that they play the entire story for laughs. Adult audiences really shouldn’t need other adults to tell them how to feel about morally reprehensible conduct (I kind of enjoy the fact that I hated myself for laughing). It’s not as if Scorsese himself hasn’t made us root for scumbags in the past, either – murderous scumbags at that (Belfort and his Wall Street lackeys are a lot of things, but they don’t kill anyone with their own hands). The problem is that true stories seem to follow a biopic template. Every plot development follows the same structured path, an issue that is compounded by the fact that Scorsese reaffirms so many of his Goodfellas and Casino chestnuts. The whole film feels so… inevitable. In lesser hands, it would be a total chore, but Scorsese has too many tricks left up his sleeve to make a boring movie, even while following a preset pattern. The Wolf of Wall Street even uses the episodic nature of modern biopics to its advantage by playing with perception (cutting back to previous events, sometimes with different results) and letting his actors go off on hilarious improvised tangents. It is an occasionally excessive and overlong experience (have I mentioned that it’s three hours long?), but, from scene to scene, the madness persists just as long as it needs to.
The Wolf of Wall Street was shot using a number of different digital HD cameras and is presented on this Blu-ray in 2.35:1, 1080p video. Scorsese and cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (his first time working with the director, following a number of collaborations with Alejandro González Iñárritu, Ang Lee, and Oliver Stone, including Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps) aim for a rich, glowy look, adding a regal sheen to the grotesque subject matter. The image alternates hyper-bright whites with hyper-deep blacks, both of which absorb the cooler hues around them. Yet, it isn’t a particularly high contrast image, because of the aforementioned glow. The important edges are crisp and patterns are plenty complex, but textures and finer details are smoothed out by the purposefully unnatural, digitally-assisted gradations. The colour schemes are relatively consistent, including orange/yellow skin tones, cool blue clothes and set pieces, and punchy red elements. These hues don’t completely define the film, though – Belfort’s pre and post-highlife scenes tend to be a little muddier, strip clubs are blaring with neon violets and pinks, and the ‘real world’ is poisoned by typical late ‘80s/early ‘90s pastels. Despite the lengthy runtime, there are no notable compression issues, not even banding effects along the plush gradations. Scorsese and Prieto use quite a bit of shallow focus, which would probably raise hell along the background edges on a standard definition disc. There are no such problems here.
The Wolf of Wall Street comes fitted with a punchy, busy DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. This is a typically aggressive, Scorsese-eque sound design that keeps the speakers rattling throughout the three-hour runtime with very few dips for simple dialogue scenes – though even these become loud as characters desperately try to speak over each other. The whole film uses the director’s Goodfellas template, but never more than during DiCaprio’s very Ray Liotta-like narration – especially when his stereo-enhanced words are expertly mixed with the ‘on-screen’ dialogue and driving music. Like many Scorsese movies, The Wolf of Wall Street doesn’t feature any original score. The musical environment is made up of source songs that underline the comedy, sometimes softly, sometimes loudly, sometimes softly, then loudly, then softly again. Some of the music is era-appropriate, especially during party scenes, but most of Scorsese’s choices subvert expectations, including a number of blues standbys, punk additions, and even a choice selection of opera.
The only extra on the disc is The Wolf Pack (17:00, HD), a relatively entertaining and extremely fluffy EPK. The cast and crew interviews fill in some of the background on the production, but mostly talk about how great Martin Scorsese and their fellow actors are.
2013 was a weird year. Michael Bay made his version of a Martin Scorsese movie with Pain & Gain. Then, as if reacting to a challenge, Scorsese adjusted his template to put it in line with Bay’s morally reprehensible, bloated, high-gloss, low attention span cinema with The Wolf of Wall Street (do note that I know that there was zero interaction between the two filmmakers and that this comparison may be unjustified). Pain & Gain works and is probably Bay’s best movie, but his bag of tricks only carry him so far when put against an eclectic master on Scorsese’s level. In the end, Scorsese can’t seem to force himself to go ‘full Bay’ and completes his rollicking criminal comedy with a number of sobering realizations. This humanity only deepens the impact. The Wolf of Wall Street deserves every ounce of praise and ire that has been thrown at it since it was released and this division makes it truly great. Paramount’s Blu-ray is light on extras (that rumoured four-hour cut turned out to be just that – a rumour), but features a strong, colourful 1080p transfer and a punchy, musically-endowed DTS-HD MA soundtrack.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 25th March 2014
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 DVS English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French and Spanish
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, and Spanish
Extras: The Wolf Pack
Easter Egg: No
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin
Length: 180 minutes
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