On Celebrating the Excesses of Wolf of Wall Street

As an aside to my review for The Wolf of Wall Street and as any cinemaphiles will have noticed since Christmas Day, there has been a lot of hoopla about whether or not the film celebrates the title character’s debauchery or condemns it. While I’m pretty clear that it does revel in the debauchery before condemning it, I want to present a counter argument with another DiCaprio film from another prestigious film maker: Catch Me If You Can.

The two films are remarkably similar in their plotting. We get scene after scene after scene of the main character breaking the law and doing horrible things until an FBI agent finally chases him down and puts him in prison. Eventually he gets out to higher legitimate successes than he could arrive at through his illegitimate early fame.

The difference between the two films is in how The Wolf of Wall Street criticizes not only the actions of its characters, but of the systems that allowed for those characters to function. Catch Me If You Can never criticizes Frank’s actions and gets us to sympathize with his character as though he wasn’t ruining lives with his actions. The film tells us repeatedly that Frank Sr. is being screwed by the government and that even though Frank Jr. ends up working for the FBI, it is because he was always a good person. The sympathy for Frank Jr. is an incredibly deceiving quality of Catch Me If You Can and is the main reason why it is by far a more morally ambiguous tale than The Wolf Of Wall Street.

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