Micro movie reviews: The Wolf of Wall Street and 12 Years a Slave

Playing a bit of catch-up today with some recent high-profile movies that I never got the chance to review in full. Look out for more of these posts in the coming weeks, but today we start with two of the biggie releases of the recent awards season.

The Wolf of Wall Street:
The Wolf of Wall Street was definitely one of the most divisive films of this year’s Oscar nominees. With living legend Martin Scorsese at the helm, and a strong cast headed by Leonardo DiCaprio and a blindingly white-toothed Jonah Hill, there’s no question about the pedigree of this biting comedy-drama. It’s just that this true story – of fortunes built on dodgy stock dealings, and the jaw-dropping debauchery of the broker lifestyle – feels incredibly drawn out at a full three hours long. It could easily have been compressed into 120-140 minutes, because in its current form The Wolf of Wall Street is a series of dull dips and electric surges. Speaking of the latter, regardless of anything else, the movie should be remembered for its brilliant extended ludes sequence. This said, personally, I think Scorsese already told this kind of rise-and-fall tale in a better, far tauter form with Goodfellas back in 1990.

3 stars out of 5.

12 Years a Slave:
This year’s Best Picture winner at the Academy Awards probably won’t be for everyone. Coming from artist-turned-filmmaker Steve (Shame, Hunger) McQueen, the 19th Century memoir adaptation has a definite arthouse vibe about it. There are long periods of silence – although this helps to establish a sense of unaffected naturalness about the film. Unlike a typically glossy, emotionally manipulative examination of slavery from Hollywood, there is no soaring orchestral soundtrack here. Instead, 12 Years a Slave manages to tonally feel like a text from the 1800s – well, if it wasn’t for the jarring do-gooder presence of Brad Pitt. There’s a refreshing matter of factness; an authenticity to this true story of a free man (Chiwetel Ejiofor) sold into slavery in the South. This said, there were a few things I didn’t buy, particularly the idealistic treatment of racial interaction in the North. And the film’s episodic format also doesn’t help viewers form a real emotional connection. Still, 12 Years a Slave remains most powerful when viewed simply as a tale of human complicity with cruelty.

4 stars out of 5.


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