The fifth time’s the charm for Martin Scorcesse (A Shark’s Tale) and Leonardo DiCaprio (Critters 4) as they reteam for the dramatisation of Jordan Belfort’s cock-manual/memoir The Wolf of Wall Street.
Jordan Belfort was of an age when Gordon Gekko first declared greed to be good. He is the American dream taken to its terrible extreme (In that regard this would make a great, if long, double bill with Pain & Gain). Of course, he got there by less than legal means, but who cares if he has to rinse a few bank accounts. This is America. This is the land of opportunity. If you have money there’s someone waiting to take it from you. After the stock market crash of ’87 Belfort happens upon selling penny stocks. They’re essentially worthless, hence the name, but they give a staggering 50% commission. So, Belfort and his co-horts sell legitimate stocks and then throw in an “Exciting new opportunity” at the end. Sell a few thousand stocks in a worthless company to someone who doesn’t know any better and you quickly become rich…so rich that you have to start flying your money abroad to keep in a Swiss bank account.
To address one of the biggest criticisms of the film is to understand how it works. This is Belfort’s memoir up on screen. This is his story from his point of view. The film doesn’t cut to shots of his victims pouring over their bank statements because Belfort simply doesn’t care. Also notice that he mentions he has two perfect children and yet they’re never seen because they don’t serve the story that Belfort is telling. Women are either wives or whores because to Belfort, that’s all they were. Even the suicide of a colleague is glossed over because Belfort can’t wait to tell you about that other time he got fucked up.
Too many people have mistaken the film for revelling in his behaviour instead of condoning it. But that’s exactly what happened. Society didn’t give a shit, so why should the movie give Belfort a slap on the wrist? It would be disingenuous, a moral lesson that serves no purpose other than to make people feel a bit better about themselves.
I suspect that some of the negative reaction is because the film does what it sets out to do so well. The film is legitimately funnier than most comedies released in the last 12 months, with a protracted scene of Belfort trying to get to his car while strung out on Quaaludes a great moment of physical comedy from DiCaprio. The point is that his exploits are funny, and then they become nauseating due to their excess. It’s the equivalent of a drunk at the bar who’s regaling you of stories about how he got fucked up, and then you realise it’s the only story he has and it just gets sad. The film isn’t a celebration of his excess, it’s a sly condemnation of it. It’s the Scarface effect. People want to revel in the excess while ignoring the fact that Tony Montana is a psychopath who fancies his sister.
The movie is excessive and a tad overlong, but then that seems to mirror Belfort’s reign of terror. It was excessive and went on for longer than it needed to. Oh and don’t take your grandmother. I counted at least three who walked out of my showing. Frankly I’m amazed they stayed through the scene where Belfort blows cocaine up a woman’s ass.