Went to see Wolf of Wall Street last night and was blown away. I love Scorsese, he takes these anti-hero biographical tales and weaves them into amazing and confronting, in-your-face, films full of capitalism, organized crime, greed, violence, drugs, sex, excess and inevitable downfall – places where the lines of good and evil, legal and illegal, moral and amoral are either so blurred for, or so far behind the protagonist, that the audience is both appalled and enthralled. The Wolf of Wall Street is no exception, in fact it damn well epitomizes these things as it follows the meteoric and unquestionably illegal rise to enormous wealth of Jordan Belfort (played by a very energetic, bordering on manic, Leonardo di Caprio) and his merry band of con men.
I haven’t read the book, but as I expect it to be in an extremely narcissistic first person narrative, I think I might have to dig up a copy for shits and giggles. The film depicts Jordan Belfort’s humble, and seemingly naive, beginnings where his mentor Mark Hanna (a very laid back, chest beating, throat singing, and totally drug fucked, Matthew McConaughey) shows him the ropes of this Wall Street gig, and explains that the stock brokers primary function is not necessarily to make money for their clients, but rather, ‘the name of the game (is) moving the money from the client’s pocket to your pocket’. In an untimely twist of fate, this savvy and formative piece of Wall Street wisdom arrives right before the 1987 Black Monday stock market crash, which suddenly leaves Belfort newly registered and ready to trade, but also – somewhat unemployed.
But never fear, Belfort obviously learned his lessons well. Perhaps a little too well, and he sets about creating a company of his own to do just that. Belfort finds a partner of equally flexible morals in the oddly frumpy Donnie Azoff, (Jonah Hill from, well, everything), and then surrounds himself with a small band of ‘salesmen’, mostly small time drug dealers, and turns them into an army of dodgy stockbrokers, whose sole aim is to use his masterful sales script to rip off investors with a brutally self interested ‘wolf pack/frat boy’ mentality… and by all accounts they get very, very good at doing exactly that. It’s the 90s and yuppie greed is so not dead, man!
Little known fact: the Wolf of Wall Street has the distinction of having the largest number of ‘fucks’ recorded in a non-documentary film … there are 506 ‘fucks’ in total, from a whopping 2.81 ‘fucks’ per minute! 😀
The money piles up. They revel in their success, and their excesses appear only limited by imagination – enormous mansions, luxury yachts, unlimited drugs (oh my god, so many drugs), designer suits, cheap hookers, expensive meals, fast cars, high class escorts, dwarf tossing, half naked marching bands… you can tell these guys are in a downward spiral and Scorsese celebrates it with a dark humour. Belfort not surprisingly ends up coming across like some sort of modern day Gatsby on crack – literally, so much coke! – and you know he’s going to come all unstuck, as the SEC and the FBI start sniffing around. But true to form, he seems completely unrepentant over his ill gained wealth and seemingly convinced (deluded?) he can con his way out of trouble’s way.
Belfort does appear to ‘suffer’ a momentarily appearance of actually being human upon finding out his trophy wife, Naomi aka Duchess (the stunningly gorgeous Aussie, Margot Robbie) is going to leave him and take the kids, and has one other slight moment of human concern (for himself, of course) about going to jail for his misdeeds. However, even this is depicted as being rapidly overcome as he remembers that even jail time isn’t so bad… for people with money.
Overall, Scorsese depicts Belfort as a deplorable and unapologetically flawed creature riding a tsunami of economic greed, at the expense of a cast of thousands we never meet; whose wave inevitably comes crashing down onto the rock and a hard place, that is otherwise known as the FBI; only to eventually come up for air on the other side of jail, smiling and peddling his one true ‘talent’ – grifting – as a motivational speaker to unsuspecting wannabe Kiwi salesmen in Auckland. Go figure.
Love or hate Jordan Belfort, it really doesn’t matter here – I thought this film was brilliant and Scorsese is at the top of his game. Go see it. Twice.