Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf Of Wall Street will be released wide by Paramount Pictures on Christmas Day with a three-hour play time and an R-rating that some who have seen the film are surprised it received from the MPAA’s Classification and Rating Administration. Exhibitors who’ve seen it have called it everything from “rough” to “the hardest R I’ve ever seen from a major Hollywood studio.”
Most think it will play well on the coasts but question how audiences will react in Middle America once they realize the movie is quite different from what the ads indicate. (One exhib I spoke with Friday said it might be another Django Unchained – referring to the Quentin Tarantino pic that despite its violent content played well across the country.)
For Wolf Of Wall Street, the studio’s marketing team cut together a slick advertising campaign selling the party aspects of the film, which play to the young, college crowd (the demo that floods the marketplace during holiday break). But, the content is … well, even its star Leonardo DiCaprio aptly calls it “a modern-day Caligula.”
The film begins with an assault of coarse language — c*cksucker, f*cking, and lines like “who’s ever sucked a dog’s c*ck out of loneliness,” and “f*ck this, sh*t that, c*ck, c*nt, a**hole” — and within the first hour and 15 minutes, audiences will see two orgies; heavy drug use (smoking crack, snorting loads of cocaine); a father and son offhandedly discussing (at length) what’s au courant in women’s “bushes”; a woman performing oral sex on one man while getting rammed from behind from another; full frontal nudity of women; and lots of misogyny. There is also a scene later of a prostitute pulling a candle out of the rectum of a married Jordan Belfort (played by DiCaprio) who then drops hot wax up and down his back.
According to the current MPAA ratings system, an R-rating means the film “contains some adult material”, while an NC-17 motion picture is one that, “most parents would consider patently too adult for their children 17 and under.”
Wolf of Wall Street received an R rating.
“Even I couldn’t believe that they gave it to us,” said one of the people involved in the film. “It probably should have been an NC-17.”
It brings up some good questions. Is this the new R-rating? Or is this what society has become? After all, one of the most successful film franchises in the country right now is about children hunting down and killing other children. It’s rated PG-13.
According to sources with knowledge of the behind-the-scenes goings-on on Wolf, the mediator between the filmmaker and the MPAA’s Classification and Rating Administration was none other than Tom Sherak. It was he who was the go-between to get some of the more … um … “delicate” … trims from Wolf. As one source noted, he has been around for a long while and often has worked as a behind-the-scenes mediator with the MPAA ratings and classifications board because “he can talk to the directors.”
Sherak is the former 20th Century Fox executive and president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for three years. As some have joked who worked for him at Fox, he was the studio’s “consigliere.” Since then, he was named Los Angeles’ film czar by new Mayor Eric Garcetti to stem the tide of runaway production. So, I guess you could now call him Garcetti’s “consigliere.” But wait … when that new position was announced, Sherak told Deadline that he was bringing in his own “consigliere” (he used that word). That turned out to be Bob Pisano (who, of course, was the former “consigliere” of MGM’s Frank Mancuso). You can see how the town gets its reputation for nepotism (just a different kind of “family”). So, with Wolf Of Wall Street, Sherak became Scorsese and Paramount’s “consigliere.”
I tracked down Sherak on Monday to an office he has inside Paramount (he has been consulting) and asked him about all this. “I think it is a hard-R movie,” he agreed. “This is a Martin Scorsese movie, and when you go into a Scorsese movie, you pretty much know that you’re going to see something hard. He made a movie that’s supposed to be hard. Everything in this movie is about excess, and it’s meant to be excessive. There are no holds barred. He puts on the screen what he believes he’s trying to express. (Wolf of Wall Street) is like the extension of Goodfellas. It’s for adults.”
As one moviegoer at the WGA screening said to me a few Sundays ago when I asked him if he liked the film: “Just because a movie is about excess doesn’t mean the movie itself has to be excessive.”
But Scorsese has the reputation of pushing the limits. He’s done it time and time again. He’s no stranger to controversy and seems to revel in it, whether it be The Last Temptation Of Christ or the excessive violence in his mob films. Why does he do it? Who knows? How does he get away with what he does? Because no one says no to Scorsese. Not really … or should I say, not often.
With Casino years ago, I remember Universal executives butting heads with him over trimming some of the more graphic violence out of the film. In one scene in particular: where the brothers (based on a true story when Spilatro was beaten to death and then dumped in an Indiana cornfield) are being beaten to death with baseball bats in a field and you hear every crack of the bones. Another scene, re-enacting a true torture scene of a guy named Billy McCarthy in 1962 by Spilatro, Scorsese showed the man’s head in a vice and his eye popping out.
So, what’s a little harsh language, sex scenes that verge on pornographic, full frontal nudity (and misogyny) of women being released on one of the holiest days of the Christian calendar (the other being Easter)? Kinda reminds you of when The Exorcist was released the day after Christmas in 1973. Oh, wait, that was a phenomenal hit.
The picture, as mentioned, is opening in a very crowded Christmas holiday with nine wide releases and two others that opened this weekend that will play through Christmas. Paramount execs believe it will play well throughout the holiday, but no one would go on the record even for a positive quote without permission from their publicity department. Wonder what Jordan Belfort would have to say about that.
As for Wolf Of Wall Street’s three-hour length? Having a three-hour film in the theater means less play time for the film itself, which affects the bottom line at the box office. Simple mathematics: A 90-minute film can play several more times than a 180-minute film. More tickets sold, more cash in the exhibitors’ (and studio’s) pocket.
Some say it could have easily been cut back from the three-hour mark, and one top executive who has worked with Scorsese before called it “self-indulgent.” Exhibitors I spoke with didn’t seem to mind the length, saying it didn’t seem like three hours because it moved so quickly. As far as how long a film should be, I tend to agree with the legendary Alfred Hitchcock, who once famously said, “The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.”