The Wolf of **** Street: is it worth watching in the UAE?

With controversy raging over the copious cuts to Martin Scorsese’s latest, we set out to see if all the fuss is justified. Is it worth your Dh35?

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort in The Wolf Of Wall Street. Red Granite Pictures
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With controversy raging about the copious cuts to Martin Scorsese’s latest –held over in UAE cinemas for the coming week – we set out to see if all the fuss is justified. Chris Newbould asks: is it worth your Dh35?

You've probably heard about the controversy sweeping the nation since Martin Scorsese's latest, The Wolf of Wall Street, was unleashed on UAE cinemagoers at the weekend. In case you've been camping in the desert, a quick recap: the film, which features a reported 506 uses of a certain cuss word – not to mention copious scenes of drug abuse and sexual debauchery in keeping with the bacchanalian atmosphere of the 1980s New York stock exchange – has been subjected to cuts of around 45 minutes, or 25 per cent of the film, for its UAE cinema release.

This, in turn, has led to recriminations over exactly who ordered or didn't order the cuts, outraged film fans taking to social media to vent their spleen and a general incomprehension at the distributor Gulf Film's logic for releasing the film here at all in such a butchered format, when more typical practice is simply to scratch the release altogether when cuts render the director's intentions meaningless (think 2010's Black Swan).

For this experiment, however, we’re not interested in any of that. Instead, in the spirit of scientific research, we set out to our local multiplex to answer some simple questions: does this film actually make any sense in its current form? Can you take an award-winning film from one of the world’s greatest directors, chop out a quarter of it and still leave an enjoyable spectacle? And is it worth your Dh35?

In the interests of disclosure, the following may contain spoilers, though there’s a fairly solid argument that the spoilers were in place long before I settled down with my popcorn.

I’d initially planned on setting my stopwatch for the first obvious cut, but thought that would be too pedantic, even for a self-confessed pedant. I was soon to rue my decision as the film can barely have been two minutes old when the first blatant chop kicked in and I sensed I may be in for a long afternoon (albeit not as long as Scorsese had intended). We weren’t just talking the occasional muted word here, either. Whole sentences and sections of dialogue were lost, while visually the amount that was being taken away led to the characters moving around as if dancing under strobe lights while unintelligible occasional words spat from the booming surround speakers. Of course, having not seen the uncut version, it’s possible Scorsese was experimenting with a new, ground-breaking camera technique, but I suspect not.

One particularly memorable scene saw Leonardo ­DiCaprio’s protagonist pop into the flat of a woman he had just met for a cup of tea (hibiscus), then, in the very next scene, he was telling his wife that he loved his new flame and was seeking a divorce. I’m all for moving fast when Cupid’s arrow strikes, but I can’t help sense that we may have missed some development of the blossoming new relationship somewhere in there.

For all the much-criticised cuts, I did still manage to enjoy the film and it offered a reasonable portrayal of the testosterone-fuelled sales floors of the booming, monetarist 1980s, albeit a less sweary one. The original motion picture soundtrack was a high point, too, and seemingly unharmed by the cuts, featuring classics from the era by the likes of The Lemonheads, Devo and Cypress Hill, among others.

Whether that makes it worth your Dh35 to see a partial version on the big screen – when so many methods exist these days of seeing it in your living room as the director intended – is, however, a question only you can answer.