On Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013)

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by Jennifer Valencia

When I went to go see Wolf of Wall Street I was aware of the hype it has caused. What I saw was far more impressive than I had imagined.

Wolf of Wall Street is the true life story of Jordon Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) a Wall Street broker engages in unethical practices leading to investment fraud in the 1990’s. Belfort starts off as an ambitions and aspiring stockbroker at an established Wall Street firm who moves from selling penny stocks at the Investor Center, after Black Monday in 1987, to opening the firm Stratton Oakmon with Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), a salesman who lives in the same apartment complex as Belfort. Stratton quickly becomes a million dollar company and Belfort, Azoff and the rest of the Stattonites are living lives of debauchery, sex and alcohol at the workplace and outside of it. It is not long before they catch the eye of the FBI. Based on the autobiography of the man himself the film follows the rise and fall of Belfort leaving very little to the imagination

My first thoughts after watching the film were that this story was something you just couldn’t make up. Belfort lived a life like no other. From humble beginnings Belfort took his life to the very hights of success, excess, and grandure. I kept thinking to myself how he survive this life? Hooked on quaaludes, Belfort managed to survive just under an decade living the life we thought only rock stars could live before it all came crashing down.

I have always been a big fan of Leonardo DiCaprio and after his role in The Departed I thought there would be know stopping him and their really hasn’t. His performance as Jordan Belfort proves that. DiCaprio has played many different roles in his career but nothing quite like this. Playing Belfort must have been both physically and mentally exhausting. It was a ballsy move for Leonardo to take on the role but he managed to play this larger than life and controversial character with a sense of tact he uses in all his performances.

Jonah Hill’s as Donnie Azoff was transformative. I knew it was him but at the same time he was unrecognizable, and it wasn’t just the prostetic teeth. It was role he had never done before and I applaud him for pushing the envelope.

I was delightfully surpriseed at how a relative new comer, Margot Robbie, could hold her own among such a strong cast. As for Matthew McConauhey, I was never a big fan of his earlier work, but he has been growing on me. His performance on Wolf of Wall Street has changed my attitude though. His screen time is probably a short 10 minutes, but he steals the scene from DiCaprio, leaving his impression throughout the film, both on DiCaprio’s character and the audience. You still remember him when you leave the theatre.

The film does glorify a life of excess to some extent, but I don’t think Scorsese’s intention was to not judge these characters. He’s telling the story, to a large degree, as it was told by Belfort in his book. The real Belfort exaggerated the facts in his autobiography. In an article in the New York Times one of the people who prosecuted the real Belfort, Joel M. Cohen, had this to say about him:

After spending hundreds of hours interrogating Mr. Belfort and others, I was able to judge his accuracy perhaps better than almost anyone. Simply put, he had to tell us the truth, or face up to 25 years in jail. Yet true to form for Mr. Belfort, when he wrote his books years later, he invented much. No one ever called him the Wolf of Wall Street until he created this name as a title for his books. He aggrandized his importance and reverence for him by others at his firm. (1)

 

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So in telling this exaggerated recollection of events without any judgment Scorsese had to work outside of the box. He could not add the stories of Belforts victms because Belfort doesn’t do so in his own book. The film is not about the events as they happened and who was effected but how they were perceived by the man himself.

The other side of this coin is that there where victims and it has been reported that Belfort has yet to pay back the full amount of restitution to his victims. (2) Many of his victims were small business owners who are still paying for their dealings with Belfort. The point I am trying to make is that the film was being non-judgmental, but at the same time it is very hard not to judge a man like Belfort and that judgment will come no matter what direction Scorsese would have chosen to take the film.

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I think Scorcese was really going back to his roots with this film but took his classic style and made something different. It reminded me a lot of Goodfellas in its dialogue (minus the record amount of F-bombs), its pace, look and feel. It really made me happy to see this side of Scorsese again. It was very entertaining and I laughed more than I thought I was going to. However, I did feel that it seemed a bit too light hearted and a tad on the long side. The depictions of Belfort and his friends excess became tiresome after a while. There were a few wild party scenes that could have been cut shorter. So in short, while failing to pass judgment on a despicable man, Scorsese took his style of narrative and turned it on to its head and that is refreshing.

Sources:
1) Cohen, M. Joal. The Real Belfort Story Missing From “Wolf” Movie, 7 Jan, 2014: n.pag. On-line. Internet. Available WWW: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2014/01/07/the-real-belfort-story-missing-from-wolf-movie/

2) Antilla, Susan. Investors Story Left Out Of Wall St. ‘Wolf’ Movie, 19 Dec, 2013: n.pag. On-line. Internet
Available WWW: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/12/19/investors-story-left-out-of-wall-st-wolf-movie/

jenn

http://www.vanityfair.com/vf-hollywood/the-wolf-of-wall-street-controversy-history

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/10579726/The-Wolf-of-Wall-Street-is-the-modern-equivalent-of-a-Shakespearean-history-play.html

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