Film Reviews

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

By • Feb 9th, 2014 •

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The line-up of characters with a predilection for traveling through life barreling towards a dead end, while hedging their bets on wits and luck, have all kicked into gear at the intersection of Criminal and Amoral. Jordan Belfort is the latest character of this ilk to be romanticized by Martin Scorsese, stemming way back to the 1960’s. Jordan Belfort stands in line with Henry Hill, Ace Rothstein, Frank Costello, and Murray. To some, these types of men are heroes, while to others, they are regarded as villains.

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is a non-stop party coursing through greed and excess via a line of cocaine that stretches across the boundaries of acceptable levels of depravity and chemical abuse. It chronicles the birth of Stratton Oakmont, the Belfort start-up that began its humble beginnings trading pink sheets. Its foundation is built upon layer after layer of hooker after stripper after carnal carnival lore that, long after the FBI wrecking ball crumbled it to its core, still stands tall as Wall Street’s flagship animal house.

Jordan Belfort differs from Henry Hill of GOODFELLAS, Michael of MEAN STREETS, and Nicky Santoro of CASINO. He’s educated and not inclined to violence, having an established sense of belonging and purpose while only in his twenties. All four men are ambitious, yet the latter three are part of something they committed to join that is not of their own creation and with a great stipulation as a member – a mortal cancellation policy. While the Wall Street firm has no mafia links, all of the men mentioned operated on the outer perimeters of the law. Belfort ran a “pump and dump” operation among other dubious practices. He was the mastermind, the brainchild reaching out to a band of friends with minimal skills and basic weed-selling capabilities whom he trained and, in a few short years, all were in collusion scamming hundreds of millions from investors.

During the Reagan era, billed as the decade of decadence, the kingpin of the Wall Street world was the fictitious Gordon Gecko (played by Michael Douglas in WALL STREET). While Gecko is locked up for his crimes, the real life crook Bernie Madoff was hustling and plundering from clients, and newcomer Jordan Belfort was welcomed to the world of finance at the lowest possible level as a “connector” before obtaining his broker license, only to fall victim to the October 1987 stock market crash. With acumen for business and salesmanship, fortune and a great fall follow.

The self-proclaimed “Wolf of Wall Street” has been in celluloid existence and we need to rewind six decades to meet the original. Rich, influential, and well-liked are three introspective characteristics by Murray from Scorsese’s 1964 student film, IT’S NOT JUST YOU MURRAY. The figure boasts his $20 tie, $50 shoes, and $5000 car. In 2013, Jordan Belfort is a reincarnated, revamped vision of Murray. In a staple Scorsese technique, Jordan talks to the camera, giving material value and conveying his reasoning while showing off his expensive threads, luxuriating in various pricey purchases such as a $4 million house, Lamborghini, and the yacht formerly owned by Coco Chanel.

Unlike the characters that Scorsese has numerously depicted in film, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) was not suffering any moral or religious dilemmas. His work fringed along the grey area and was not guilty of any face-to-face embezzlement or gun-pointing crimes. The vulgarity in his profession preceded him, as he was introduced to it on his very first day in the biz by the guy who also explained that the entire stock system’s bedrock is fairy dust. Ironically, the kid who got canned on his first day as a licensed broker found a way to rebound from the repercussions of the big crash of Black Monday. He believes he’s deserving of kudos and adulation. As for being stuck in the muck of morality, only once did he ponder it, if ever so briefly. On his shoulders sat an angel and a devil; the morally correct “good wife” and the tantalizing seductress. His lecherous libido chose unwisely and pointed towards the one who inevitably serves divorce papers when all the money trees in her Long Island kingdom get uprooted.

The objectification of females in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET will lead to accusations of misogyny. Truthfully, the women serve as accommodations; some with peak rates down to off-season mid-week rated ones that require an injection after the stay. Bottom line is this: if it was for sale, Belfort and company were buying. The opening scene foretells the lewd and crude triple x-rated escapades to follow. Office antics with sex, drugs, and rockin’ marching bands in underwear were the norm. With the outrageousness so out of hand, a no sex zone was designated at the office where the foundation of such practice was laid. Everyone had a price. A female employee had her hair shaved off in return for 10 grand that would be used for the betterment of her breasts. Sadly for Jordan, the heftiest price tag was affixed to wife number two.

The characters that are conjoined to Belfort would properly be painted as a group found in after school detention at a developmental institution. At the top tier of this stooge totem pole is Jonah Hill’s character, Donnie Azoff. Recognizing the guy from his building, he’s taken with Belfort’s car, and adding fuel to his crazed mania is the admission from his neighbor that he made $72,000 the previous month. And just like that, the guy that married his cousin because she was hot and procreated regardless of the possible medical abnormalities, successfully quit his furniture sales job and employed himself to Belfort, a cause for celebration topped off with a hit of crack for him and his new boss.

Brad (Joe Bernthal), a low-level pill-pusher with a forte for salesmanship, is also a dominant figure on the totem pole. Once word is out that the feds are sniffing around, it’s advised that cash should be squirreled away in places such as Geneva. The logistics of smuggling millions of hard earned cash to a smarmy Swiss banker (Jean Dujardin) is a daunting task relegated in part to Brad’s Slovenian-Swiss wife, Chantalle (Katrina Cas.) The third act tackles the burden of money issues and the spindling away of Belfort’s earnings and his briefly acquired wealthy lifestyle. The tragedy is handled comically, which diminishes the character’s obvious remorse and frazzled upheaval.

The federal investigation miffs Jordan. The only voice of reason is his father’s, who reiterates what Jacob Fuller asks Seth Gecko in FROM DUSK TILL DAWN: “Don’t you know when you won?” As the CEO of Stratton Oakmont announces his resignation, a move which will secure his wealth and freedom, the emotion from his troops coruscates in an expression of well-meaning solidarity that makes him renounce his resignation, leading to Belfort’s shackled ‘perp walk’ to perdition.

Rich people suck. That’s why songs like Eat the Rich by Aerosmith and Motorhead were written. The film TRADING PLACES supports this statement. By positioning this stance and aligning with Belfort, the charges lodged against him were for faceless and victimless crimes. Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) schooled Belfort that the entire system is fugazi. Just as Ace Rothstein (CASINO) wouldn’t let whales leave with the casino’s bank, Hanna coerced the clients to parlay their investments into further investments, so that in the end there would be nothing left to actually cash in. Think about it, who cares about stock trades with doctors who won’t see an uninsured dying patient, or with over-priced lawyers that are in cahoots with judges who impose sentences to populate corporate owned prisons? Change courses. What about the postal workers and blue collared guys calling the ad in the back of Hustler Magazine, giving what little they couldn’t afford to lose in efforts to try to make some extra bucks?

In the end, Jordan Belfort was not and is not the biggest crook on Wall Street. The financial empires of world banks and investment firms continually rip off the populace and do so without fear. To conspiracy theorists the Illuminati are at the helm. Obviously, Belfort did not keep the right company to maintain a safe distance from the long arm of the law. With a lifetime ban in the financial markets and twenty-two months served at club fed, plus an order to pay $110 million in restitution, the great salesman is a world-traveling, highly-paid motivational speaker. Perhaps the escapades are toned down, but, at the close of the story, Jordan Belfort still won.

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One Response »

  1. Franco…this is one of your best reviews….very insightful look into Scorsese’s character’s and how DiCaprio fills the shoes of his latest on screen voice after DeNiro

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