How would I describe The Wolf of Wall Street? Well if I had to use a common phrase from This is Spinal Tap, this film went to eleven…and I loved every second of it!
I saw this film on Wednesday night. I woke up Thursday morning with a massive headache as if I was suffering from a drinking hangover (and trust me I wasn’t drinking). The contents of this film felt like a blur. There are so many insane moments, this dark, hedonistic film will literally screw with your eyeballs and you will laugh your head off while watching it.
“My name is Jordan Belfort. The year I turned 26, I made 49 million dollars, which really pissed me off because it was three shy of a million a week.” – Jordan Belfort
How do I even begin describing Jordan Belfort? Four words – a self-indulgent serial bullsh*tter. He’s a self made man with the gift of the gab (aka talk like his life depended on it both vocally and telepathically) and when money was made, he goes on a daily alcohol, drug and sex filled bender. In his own words, he consumed “enough drugs to sedate Manhattan, Long Island, and Queens for a month.”
The thing about Jordan Belfort is because he’s so honest about his exploits that immediately you’re unsympathetic because you know he’ll end up as a classless douchebag long before the film has ended. He already branded himself as having a “high minded ambition” when he started out in Wall Street and when Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) gives him a re-education on how to make money (like planting an idea like Inception), normally you would say the only way is up but really, the only way is down because that is where Jordan Belfort descended.
Forget Gordon Gekko from Wall Street, Jordan Belfort makes the term “greed is good” look like chump change. His style is persuasive yet aggressive taking the morality out of any equation. His brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont was the jungle, his employees the animals and he was the king. When a newspaper article butchered him and labelled him as a wolf, he used that as an advantage as demonstrated in one scene where young adults who dropped out of school flocked to his office in droves to be part of his company. His brokerage friends such Donnie (played by the terrifically funny Jonah Hill) adopted Jordan’s philosophy to justify the way they acted.
In many respects that’s how The Wolf of Wall Street is structured. It’s like watching three films rolled into one. It has the “wise guy” narrative from Goodfellas with Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) explaining (or not really explaining) how the system worked. I mean seriously, does anyone remember what an IPO was? I don’t, and Jordan’s clients didn’t, but it didn’t matter because with a 50% commission on every sale, who cares? Money was being made. It has elements from Casino, a film that charted the rise and the fall of Sam “Ace” Rothstein, and when applied to The Wolf of Wall Street, it charts how stupidly greedy Jordan Belfort, Donnie and others got. Finally it’s Catch Me if You Can (underrated film btw) – how long could Belfort go on with his business practices without drawing attention to himself? Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) is tasked with that job to bring him down.
“I’ll tell you what: I’m never eating at Benihana again. I don’t care whose birthday it is.” – Donnie Azoff
Did I tell you this film is funny? Not really? Ok I’ll say it again – this film is funny! I’ve laughed at actual comedies but with The Wolf of Wall Street, the laughter was hysterical. We laughed at them because the situations were too crazy to make up but it was true and narrated with great detail. Rob Reiner as Jordan’s dad Max probably gets the best introduction in the entire film because all he does is get angry and shout, especially if you disturbed him while he was watching The Equalizer. But the best laugh out moment has to be when Belfort’s Quaaludes finally kicked in unexpectedly at a country club and had to rush home to stop Donnie (who was also drugged up on Quaaludes) talking on the phone because it was tapped. It’s actually scary the amount of substance abuse that went on with Jordan and his friends. There’s nothing celebratory about this film. To them, it was a non-stop despicable party.
“Let me tell you something. There’s no nobility in poverty. I’ve been a poor man, and I’ve been a rich man. And I choose rich every f*cking time.” – Jordan Belfort
On a serious note, director Martin Scorsese doesn’t miss a trick. He doesn’t try to judge Jordan Belfort or try to tell his story with any kind of moral stance. If it contained even a hint of morality, it wouldn’t have the same impact. This is a raw, unforgiving, brutal and honest film about how a man cheated the system and made millions off it. In many ways it’s like a documentary and visually your eyes are filled with some of the most obscene behaviour ever depicted on screen. Cleverly Scorsese makes YOU (the audience) to judge Jordan Belfort. Scorsese holds a mirror up to the screen and shows you from Belfort’s perspective how he lived his hedonistic, arrogant lifestyle. It’s immoral, it’s disgusting and he acted like a child in a sweet shop, having everything he ever wanted and living without any consequences. It didn’t matter who got screwed over as long as the money rolled in. The more trouble Belfort got in, he kept descending to an all time new low as illustrated when his wife threatened to take the kids away.
Furthermore, while we’re judging Belfort’s behaviour, Scorsese again asks the question – have we learnt from our mistakes? I mean that is the point of history isn’t it? The simple, overwhelming answer to that is NO. Why? The same nonsense is still happening today. They may not be living or acting like Belfort (or maybe they are and we just don’t know about it) but the way brokers play the stock market like it’s a roulette table at a Las Vegas casino is disturbing. Whilst people suffer into buying things that don’t exist and effectively ruining their lives, the brokers are making a profit that changes their fortunes overnight. Whilst the film showcases Belfort’s twisted, rock and roll mentality of sex, drugs and alcohol, money was his real addiction. They were opportunities where he could have bowed out to save him the trouble, but his arrogance and his greed kept on pushing him further until “the chickens came home to roost.”
Because Belfort’s account is so brutally honest, leaving nothing to the imagination, it acts like a cautionary tale. It really does make you wonder how the same things keep happening time and time again and why it’s still allowed to happen. The era it’s based on was not that long ago! Belfort created a workforce that was an extension of him – with his debauchery style behaviour, his workforce would follow suit like a bunch of lemmings. That attitude of being aggressive about money is no different from films like Boiler Room, Glengarry Glen Ross or Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room where the leaders are tough-talking, guilt tripping you into selling like your life and your future depended on it. You are nothing unless you own this house, you drive this car, you eat at this restaurant or you wear this expensive suit. The workers would feed into that culture until it became “acceptable” and took on a life of it’s own. Yes we laugh at their empty speeches and the way they act (and in the case of this film, it’s hysterical), but it’s not a laughing matter to them because they believe in their deluded cause so passionately. They are like a James Bond villain, feeling like they could take on the world and were untouchable. I mean how else would you explain Donnie’s reaction on belittling a fellow employee because he was cleaning his fishbowl and wearing a bowtie or pissing on a subpoena issued by the Federal Government?
Belfort is now a motivational speaker after spending 22 months in prison. It begs the question – did the punishment suit the crime? Absolutely not. Because of his wealth, prison was just an extended vacation.
I absolutely loved The Wolf of Wall Street. It’s a dark, no holds barred type of film. It’s a movie that’s nearly 3 hours long and it just flew by like a visual blur.
My mind feels very satisfied that I’ve seen two outstanding films in a week – this film and 12 Years a Slave. Both films are polar opposites in terms of their themes but they don’t shy away from the honest and ugly truth. Whilst I’m mentally betting on Chiwetel Ejiofor to win best actor at the Oscars, if Leonardo DiCaprio wins it instead, I wouldn’t have any complaints because it will be long overdue. He has been consistent to the point that every film he does is Oscar worthy and playing Belfort and embracing his hedonistic and greedy arrogance is his craziest and best acting performance yet. It’s something he probably won’t do again – pop and lock dancing and all.
Scorsese once again delivers an outstanding film that I consider one of his best. When I say “one of his best”, you name your top five Scorsese films and slot this film in there (or wherever you rank The Departed and swap it out.).
The Wolf of Wall Street challenges the perception of how we view our financial system. It’s meant to be uncomfortable and unforgiving because it’s from a certain point of view. But basically, if this film doesn’t shock you about how people abuse the system to get abundantly rich – I don’t know what film will.