The Wolf of Wall Street: Scorsese’s Surprisingly Fun Takedown of the American Dream?

The trailer for the fifth Martin Scorsese/Leonardo DiCaprio collaboration The Wolf of Wall Street recently came out, and it looks just as fantastic as you would expect it to be. Inspired by the rise and fall of real life stock trader Jordan Belfort, The Wolf of Wall Street also stars Jonah Hill and Matthew McConaughey. The trailer can be found here:

The Wolf of Wall Street Official Trailer

What immediately struck me upon watching this trailer was how fun the movie looks. When I first heard about the movie, I expected it to be Martin Scorsese’s take on a Gordon Gecko type figure, drawing on what Oliver Stone set out to do in 1987’s Wall Street and updating it for the modern day. And the movie does seem to examine that “Greed is Good” philosophy. What I did not expect were images of Leo tossing dwarfs at a target like a lawn dart.

Wolf of Wall Street

At one point he also brings a monkey into the office:

Wolf of Wall Street

It all looks so lively and energetic. Of course most of this will be in the ‘rise’ section of the movie, with the ‘fall’ only hinted at towards the end of the trailer with quick cuts of cops and guns. Until then, we are treated with dwarves, monkeys, parties, women, drugs, fast cars, luxurious boats, and an always charming Matthew McConaughey. It looks like everyone is at the top of their game here, delivering a smart and socially relevant movie, yet with extreme entertainment value and wide audience appeal.

Wolf of Wall Street

It must also be noted how perfectly the trailer is edited to Kanye West’s new song ‘Black Skinhead.’ The use of Kanye West brings about comparison to Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, another movie featuring DiCaprio in ultra-rich party mode. I enjoy the idea of this trailer as an almost rap battle response to Luhrmann by Scorsese, with Kanye and Leo as the primary instruments. Both movies are about the recklessness of the wealthy, and how one man essentially sells his soul to achieve such an excessive and extravagant lifestyle.

These films are about the American Dream, an increasingly pervasive topic in movies this year. The American Dream is one of those themes than you can read into as the subtext of almost any story, like “class struggle” or “the emptiness of the human condition”. They look good on paper and sound insightful, so students love them and employ them frequently. Yet this year more movies are making the American Dream the actual subject matter of the film, with characters openly discussing it. Just look at Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers and Michael Bay’s Pain and Gain. These movies turn the American Dream into the very text of the film, something rarely done since Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Terry Gilliam’s movie adaptation in 1998 lost the subtitle of Thompson’s original book published in 1971: “A Savage Journey into the Heart of the American Dream.

With events like the Occupy Wall Street movement still fresh in viewer’s minds, the 1% vs. the 99% idea seems to be the hot topic for filmmakers today. Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring follows a group of thieves who steal from the ivory towers of celebrities in Hollywood. Neill Blompkamp’s Elysium pushes the concept into the future by placing the 1% in outer space, literally looking down on the rest of us from their orbiting utopia. The recently video game Bioshock Infinite established a similar society by venturing into the past, again featuring a floating city of the wealthy out reach from the “vox populi” below.

The core message is that the American Dream is flawed, and the system is rigged. It’s a message especially relevant right now, and audiences seem to want to hear it. The question becomes whether or not Scorsese will be able to bring something new to the table with The Wolf of Wall Street. Villainizing the corrupt stock trader isn’t a new notion by any means, and it’s especially easy in the aftermath of the 2008 recession. It was even done fairly recently (and quite effectively) in last year’s Arbitrage, yet where Arbitrage was so serious and solemn The Wolf of Wall Street looks comical and vibrant. And maybe that’s enough to keep it fresh.

Wolf of Wall Street

Based off this trailer, it’s tough not to start thinking about Oscar nominations already. DiCaprio has quite the following these days, with people practically rioting for the guy to finally get his statue. Of the two, this seems more likely to get the Academy’s attention than The Great Gatsby, which got a tepid reception from critics and audiences. Jonah Hill, who now gets to have the label “Academy Award Nominee” above his head, could be in for another nomination even though Moneyball is only two years behind us. Finally McConaughey, who has had a string of great performances recently with Magic Mike, Bernie, The Paperboy, Killer Joe and Mud, could finally get some recognition for the excellent work he’s been churning out over the last year. With these major players and Martin Scorsese at the helm, The Wolf of Wall Street should connect with critics and audiences, even if its subject matter has already been done before. Maybe audiences will never tire of artists exploring the so-called “dark underbelly of the American Dream.” We’ll find out when The Wolf of Wall Street comes out on November 15th.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. Jon Lisi
    Jon Lisi

    You’ve done the near impossible with this article. You’ve made trailer discussion/analysis a worthy endeavor. The film does look to have a playful side to it, and it reminds me of Goodfellas in many ways.

    • Vic Millar

      Thanks! And yes Goodfellas is the Scorsese movie that sprung to mind for me as well, with Leo talking to the camera about his success by illegal means.

  2. Scorsese is the greatest and one of my fav writers is on board. This is my most anticipate movie at the moment.

  3. Nick Santoro

    This movie looks great, I can’t wait to see it. I’m also one of those people who want Leo to receive an Oscar already.

  4. I try not to mention Oscar nominations until I’ve seen the movie, but I would love to see Leo get nominated this year, and maybe win it.

  5. Sergio Santamaria

    amazing article. the author of this piece seems like a really swell guy. yes, i said swell.

    PS. slide to the right to comment. #smart

  6. Andrew Couzens

    I guess since the American Dream is tied so inexorably to money and wealth (such intangible, false things) any film about money is really about the American Dream.

    Anyway, Scorcese is a great director, this looks right up his alley – I’m looking forward to it.

  7. WackJeller

    I cracked up when I remembered that Jonah Hill will be an ‘Oscar Nominated Actor’ into perpetuity. You’re right about the recent trend in anti-Wall Street movies, which is an interesting contrast to the way Silicon Valley has been portrayed in the last few years.
    It makes sense that this is mostly a reaction to the recent crash, although I can’t imagine Goldman Sachs ever getting involved in a movie the way that Google was in ‘The Internship.’

    Either way, I can’t wait for this movie! Great analysis.

    • Vic Millar

      If The Internship was about an internship with Goldman Sachs instead of Google, it would actually be a far more compelling movie and I’d want to see it! Maybe in the sequel. Thanks for your comment!

  8. I don’t know how ‘fun’ it looks – yeah, sure, the majority of the trailer’s runtime seems pretty light-hearted, but take a closer look toward the end and there’s plenty there to suggest that it’s a lot darker than it seems. Leo looking dishevelled, the guns, the cops… and he subject matter isn’t exactly a comedy topic nowadays!

    I think the trailer’s a facade, masquerading to hide and surprise us when it launches. Don’t forget that Scorsese’s Goodfellas has plenty of dark comedy, and WoWS looks like it could be his modern follow-up.

    • Robbie Cochrane

      The dark appears to be darker when there is light to balance it off. I agree with Ben.

      Great analysis though and I look forward to the film!

  9. Di Caprio and Scorsese have been teaming up for a number of films now, I think this will be as good as their other collaborations. I think it’s destined to take a dark turn somewhere, with the fun and success there is bound to be a story here somewhere of a downfall.

  10. Robyn O'Mahony

    The trailer looks amazing. I too was surprised by the direction Scorsese looks to be taking with the film, but I cant wait to see it when it finally comes out!

  11. I’m not sure this is technically the American Dream, which I guess Scorsese could really hate general freedom and citizens rights to self determination but I doubt it. It might be a takedown of Donald Trump and George Soros types. All that money and absolutely no taste from both of those men.

  12. Brett Siegel

    I’d say that much of Scorsese’s work qualifies as “fun”, even while it explores some pretty dark places. Cape Fear, The King of Comedy, After Hours, and The Departed are all heavily laced with the director’s unique sense of black comedy. It looks like The Wolf of Wall Street will have a lot in common with Goodfellas, not only in terms of the classic rise and fall narrative, but also in terms of its ambiguously funny style. Scorsese meant for Goodfellas to be a fun experience, just as he meant the audience to question why it was having so much fun watching despicable people do despicable things. Wolf looks like classic Scorsese. Can’t wait!

  13. If you look back on many of Dicaprio and Scorsese’s works, they have looked at the rise and fall of a wealthy anti-hero and how their story relates to the shared idea of the American dream. They both seem to grasp stories and characters that are both ambiguous and relevant to this generation.

  14. Marcus Dean

    I literally just finished submitting an article about how much fun it looks like DiCaprio has in the trailer, bloody beat me to it haha. Great minds though. Nah mine only starts in the same place as yours thankfully.
    Great read!

  15. Spencer

    Great article! I wasn’t sure whether I’d be into The Wolf of Wall Street when I first heard of it, but as time goes on it seems to become more and more appealing..

  16. can’t wait to go see the movie because of your article!

  17. Megan Kelly
    Megan Kelly

    I loved Scorsese’s take on the reckless turmoil that the American Dream has spiraled into. My first viewing of the trailer made me both excited and energized, something I have felt from very few previews these days. Scorsese is, was, and always will be my favorite director.

  18. Wolf of Wall Street seems to have retained much of the acclaim to now that it had when it was first released.

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