By Joan Ellis
From first scene to last, “The Wolf of Wall Street” is a movie about dishonesty, irresponsibility, cruelty, betrayal, misogyny, narcissism and greed.
It is also about one man’s determination to soak his brokerage firm employees in celebratory sex and drug orgies as rewards for their success. This is the true story of Jordan Belfort, bacchanal, participant and practitioner in debauchery worthy of Bacchus himself.
The real Belfort started the Stratton Oakmont brokerage firm to hustle penny stocks after Black Monday, 1987, ended his brief Wall Street career. He assembled a gang of ignorant, uninteresting young men and taught them to cold call willing victims who wanted money the fast and easy way. The traders hyped penny stocks until the prices soared, then dumped them for their own profit – $22 million on one good morning. When the stock prices collapsed, their victims were out $200 million and the brokers were rolling in cocaine, women, alcohol, body fluids, vomit and money.
Apparently Belfort feels no regret since he saw fit to write a book about his own rise and fall, including a four-year jail sentence later reduced to 20 months. If you Google Jordan Belfort – and I hope you won’t waste your time – you’ll find that Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio have stuck close to the true story of a toxic business culture that engulfed an entire trading floor of brokers without a dissenting vote.
Leonardo DiCaprio, going all out, is believable as he crashes his helicopter on the Long Island lawn of his mansion, crushes his car, tosses his first wife Teresa (Cristin Miloti) for hotter ticket Naomi (Margot Robbie) and plunges into drug addiction, alcoholism and nonstop sex with hookers. Under Scorsese’s encouraging hand, the cast delivers good performances of empty young men in gray suits who, once tempted, succumb with enthusiasm to their leader’s demands. It is the definitive tale of an easy-money scam devised by losers who contribute nothing to the economy or to the people they meet.
And now, the Scorsese touch: This movie is a comedy. Yes, a comedy – and so it is, at times. In the early flush of victory, Belfort hires a costumed brass band to march through the trading floor leading a passel of naked women for the pleasure of the men whose eyes bug out at the prospect. The scene ends in an orgy of champagne and sex for the traders. It’s funny once, but we’re talking here about three hours of decline into debauchery.
If the movie were fictional, Scorsese would be drummed out for excess. Other than FBI agent Denham, who you will root for from the moment he appears, try to find even one other sympathetic character. Matthew McConaughey’s Mark Hanna says it best, “Move the client’s money from his pocket to yours; we don’t build anything.” Three hours of fraud without remorse. Repulsive content, filmed with gusto. You’ll go anyway, but do let me know how you feel.
Joan Ellis’ address on the Internet, which contains her review library, is JoanEllis.com.
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