Epic of Excess: THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
An endless buffet of boobs, blow, and booze bombard our senses in Martin Scorsese’s latest movie masterpiece The Wolf of Wall Street. Based on a true story, Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Jordan Belfort a self made multi-millionaire who opened the ultra classy sounding brokerage firm Stratton-Oakmont following the stock market crash of 1987. Belfort is a super sharp whiz kid with an inherant knack for sales, something an early mentor, the fast talking, eccentric shmoozer Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) spots right away. Not long after losing his job on Wall Street, a lightbulb goes off in Belfort’s brain on how to manipulate penny stocks to create a steady stream of income. He then recruits a gang of untalented shnooks and transforms them virtually overnight into a pack of money hungry sharks that build up the Long Island based biz into a financial pumpin’ and dumpin’ juggernaut.
Belfort soon gets an equally sadistic sidekick in Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) a chunky wannabe yuppie with a voracious appetite to make money and live like a rockstar. He also rivals Belfort in his lust for sex and use of recreational drugs like cocaine and the mythical quaaludes that the pals cherish since they are such rare finds. With an army of crazed cold callers under his tyrannical tutelage, Jordan’s life both in the office and outside becomes a constant party where nothing is off limits be it wild sex, copious amounts of drugs and booze, expensive cars, homes, yachts or helicopters. It is very much a modern day version of Caligula if he lived in the 90s Yuppie World.
As Jordan’s success continues to skyrocket into the stratosphere, his unassuming, mousey wife Teresa (Cristin Milioti) starts to lose her charm. She swiftly gets left on the curb when he encounters Naomi (Margot Robbie) a stunningly beautiful blonde that shows up at one of his outrageous Long Island parties. Jordan, who is instantly smitten, has an affair with the vampy vixen and remarries giving her the majestic nickname “The Dutchess” as she joins his side on the throne.
Like any classic tale of magnificently decadent self-indulgence there is a downside and Belfort begins to experience it when FBI agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) comes sniffing around looking for any cracks in his armor. Belfort even tries to use his snake like charm to get Denham on his side but is embarassingly rebuked. As a precautionary measure against any potential charges, Jordan comes up with a risky plan to smuggle millions of his dough to Switzerland. As much as he tries to stay above and beyond the law using his superb skills for sneaky schemes, his own self destructive vices and other damaging incidents occur that start the inevitable crumbling of his moneymaking empire.
It’s very easy to get caught up in the fast paced onslaught of sex, drugs and unabashed debauchery in the film, and I think thats the whole point of it. We can and do identify with Jordan on many levels and even get to like him but we can also plainly see his flaws. In one of his most memorable moments that doesn’t involve T&A or tossing midgets, Belfort delivers a Gordon Gekko like speech about wealth and as blunt and cold as it seems, it makes an impact. For him it’s not about ripping people off or greed as much as it’s about being the best you can be. One can see the sheer magnetism he emitted could’ve affected anyone in his company.
What Martin Scorsese so brilliantly does is throw the viewer right into Belfort’s wild world as if we’re one of his inner circle. The master filmmaker locks the doors and sends us off on a careening ride, never slowing down even when it’s going off the rails. I think this aspect actually satiates us as co-conspiritors in Jordan’s adventures since we never see the faces of the many people he harmed. All of us come out the other side better for what we’ve experienced on the journey.
If you love GoodFellas and Casino you can’t help but see some similarities, from Belfort’s frank, intimate narration to his gang of traders that replace the mafiosi thugs. The difference here is instead of murder there’s money, T&A and mountains of drugs. I think Belfort actually has more in common with a guy like Sam “Ace” Rothstein than Henry Hill. Like Ace, Belfort had a real god given talent but decided to break the law and that was where he really failed as a professional and human being.
The humor in this film comes up everywhere and DiCaprio and Hill make an outstanding comedy duo, a kind of drug impaired Laurel and Hardy if you will. They have several very funny scenes together that made me erupt with laughter. One of the most memorable is like a mini movie within the movie where Belfort and Azoff consume a bottle of very old quaaludes. The effects of the drug don’t occur at first so they take more and more assuming they’re just duds. The drug does finally kick in unexpectedly turning the dudebros into a pair of slithering drooling lumps with no motor reflexes and nearly kills them both.
Besides being ferociously attacked with a carnival of depraved debauchery and screwy Hunter S. Thompson-esque substance fueled humor, Martin Scorsese shows us two sides of Belfort. There’s a clear admiration for his ambition and drive as a creative visionary who brought out the best in people. On the other hand it presents someone with a complete lack of self control that indulges in every vice available to an ugly extent.
I do think there’s a redemptive quality to this story even though Belfort only served minimal time in prison and is now a successful motivational speaker and consultant. What The Wolf of Wall Street gets across to us is that noone is all good or bad. There can be a potential second chance for those that have done questionable and amoral things. The desire to be the best and live to the fullest isn’t a crime. It’s the manner in which you do it that matters most.