The first time I saw the trailer for Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, I was in a trance. Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead” blaring in the background while the trailer played only reeled me in even more, accompanied by clips of Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill looking like college frat boys instead of Wall Street brokers; having the kind of fun people only fantasized about. As I watched, key scenes from classics such as Wall Street, Animal House, Scarface, GoodFellas and Casino all came to mind.
After having seen it, my assessment was pretty much dead on. It’s one long outlandish scene after another with each one more debauched than the last. I didn’t think the next scene could top the one before. With so much sex, drugs and over the top spending, it almost looked like a 90’s rap video. The movie follows a ridiculous character who gets himself into wild situations and never learns his lesson. Fueled by drug use and it’s fair share of profanity, (The “F” bomb is dropped a record of 506 times in the film) It’s entertaining as hell. It’s like witnessing a car crash that you can’t help but keep watching to see what happens next. Old analogy, but works perfectly fine with the film. Scorsese’s outdone himself once again. Being able to document the “true” story of a man with a lifestyle so frowned upon, all the while making him seem like the protagonist has to be an art. Heavy quotations on “true” story, considering the events that take place are based on Jordan Belfort’s book of the same name. And frankly, who wouldn’t make their lives seem more interesting than it really is? This isn’t unlikely of Scorsese’s approach to film making, as most of his movies are based on crooks telling a story from their point of view.
DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort; a kid from Queens who’s hell-bent on being the most powerful man on Wall Street. When he first arrives, he’s unbeknownst to what the trader game is all about and asks his mentor Mark Hanna ( brilliantly played by Matthew McConaughey): “but if the client gets rich in the process, so much the better, right?” “Wrong”, Hanna explains. “Your job is to keep the client’s money in the game, and move it around as much as possible while extracting commissions, taking home real wealth in exchange for creating the illusion of wealth.” Though this scene is out shadowed by McConaughey jumping off subject for a hilarious extended rant, the main point of the scene is to show how the traders give no f*cks about the clients and instead, focus on their own income.
The stock market crashes on Belfort’s second day of work. What a bad break right? BUT Belfort takes his mentor’s advice and crafts it to perfection. He starts his own firm in Long Island realizing that there’s more money in getting plumbers and garbage men to throw their earnings away on penny stocks, for which he can collect a 50 percent commission, rather than nickle and diming the super rich on blue chip stocks. In comes the show stealer of the movie Jonah Hill. Hill plays Donnie Azoff; Belfort’s loyal partner who’s crass, lewd behavior brings comedic relief through out the film. When Belfort and Azoff team up, they mold a team of misfits in the image of Belfort himself; creating a sort of fratboy money cult called Stratton-Oakmont, where everyone does drugs, bangs high priced whores, and makes tons of money.
From there, it’s mostly one long wealth montage kind of like in Scarface, but with chimps, dwarf-tossing, whores, cocaine, quaaludes, well dressed men in suits and great comedic timing. A lot of critics have frowned upon this depiction but I enjoyed the point of view of a power driven “Robin Hood” that takes money from the working man and gives to himself. I’m sure people always want to see a moral to a story but how many movies already offer us that? Instead, Scorsese keeps us in Belfort’s world of “money makes right and no consequences,” leaving us to draw our own opinions. Whereas Goodfellas and Casino where consumed by tension, Wolf is driven almost completely by comedy, which it finds in absurd over the top arguments ranging from dwarves to IPO deals and an incredible, drug-fueled scene with cocaine used as a metaphor for Popeye’s spinach that rivals the best Three Stooges sketches ever filmed for physical comedy. In a lot of ways, The Wolf of Wall Street is Goodfellas through the eyes of Joe Pesci’s Tommy DeVito rather than Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill; He thinks every decision he makes is for the greater good and everyone is out to get him. Throughout the film you begin to hope he gets away with it because you fall in love with the character even though you know Belfort is a scumbag.
As great and as funny as The Wolf of Wall Street is at depicting Jordan Belfort as a con man, it’s hard not to feel like Scorsese himself got conned as well. The final shot of the film gathers an audience at one of Jordan Belfort’s post-Stratton speaking gigs. With its focus on the audience, the shot seems to be an attempt to say “why are you so attracted to this slime ball and his obnoxious over the top lifestyle?”
Let’s be real Belfort got away with murder and a lot of people felt like this film was a slap in the face to whom the events may have effected when they took place. It’s also easy to be misinterpreted as a way for Belfort to relive his glory days on a grand scale. Most reviews I’ve read bash the movie because they feel there is no true moral to the story. However, all movies don’t have to do that in my opinion. For me the lesson here tells the ugly truth that everyone doesn’t always get what is coming to them. I enjoyed the movie a great deal and I recommend you go see how it plays out for yourself. Martin Scorsese delivers yet another masterpiece film that lived up to the hype, while DiCaprio continues to make it hard to be ignored at the Oscars.