The Pitch: In America the only thing between you and your Billions is the FBI
Jordan Belfort, the titular Wolf of Wall Street played with such gusto and relish by one Leonard Dicaprio (Critters 3- 1991) started out as a good man and ended up a bad man. Always attracted to numbers and the stock market Jordan with long-time girlfriend in tow uproots his life and takes the hour long transit ride (phew) from Queens, NY to New York, NY. Together they plan to get him in an investment firm where he can ply his trade and own the world. But after passing the test to become a licenced Broker the firm he is working for buckles under Black Monday and he is forced to start his own business pushing Penny Stocks on innocent rubes. Hilarity ensues.
And ensue it he does. Not since Casino have I had this much fun in a Scorsese film. Not since Casino has Scorsese made a film worthy of the Scorsese name. From critical failures like Bringing out the Dead and Shutter Island to all out failure to the story Aviator and The Departed Scorsese has been having a blast bouncing around from fun escapade to another. I always got the sense that he was bored with doing what he did best, making movies about Anti-heroes, and wanted to try to branch out. Of course, to say that he failed at these endeavours might be stretching it as Scorsese on a bad day is still better than most of the Director’s out there but one got the feeling that he was phoning it in. Much like Spielberg making Kingdom of the Crystal Skull who didn't even phone that in but got a drunk three year old to direct it for him and he just slept through Dailies- Scorsese is a great Director who might have hit the 7- year itch around 1996 and instead of Divorcing her he cheated.
The root of The Wolf of Wall Street is Money and Success. How these two nouns can take a good man and corrupt him. By no means does Jordan, who also narrates his own story, pretend that he did not have a good time through his stardom- so to speak. Being that he is telling the story looking back this delightful unreliable narrator helps us see that he wasn’t a good man back then (If he is good now or just afraid to try again we will never know) but in the moment he thought he was doing what needed to be done to get ahead.
Who knew that the comedy duo of 2013 would be Leonardo Dicaprio and Jonah Hill (Grandma’s Boy- 2006) who plays Donnie, Jordan’s trusted friend and confidant. In a wonderful scene that seems directly out of all our our Dream Journals, Donnie first meets Jordan at a coffee shop. Donnie approaches Jordan’s table and demands him to tell him what his vocation is and if he can prove how much he makes (about 70K a month) Donnie would quit his job right there and work for Jordan. He does and at their one year anniversary Donnie celebrates by having them both smoke Crack. You know? Of course. And once straight-laced Jordan learns how delightful narcotics really are.
Scorsese’s directing style calls to memory how I felt when I saw Oliver Stone’s masterpiece Natural Born Killers. Frenetic and chaotic but at it’s heart chosen on purpose to sell the intensity of the story.
Having learned everything from his first Boss Mark played by Matthew McConaughey (Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation- 1994) smooth talker no-care attitude who sniffs coke at the table of a fancy restaurant and gets drunk at lunches. Jordan wants to become him and with a nod to the song that Mark sings in that very restaurant we have Jordan rile his entire office to sing it at the end of the film when he makes his final fatal step to crashing. Now the student has become the master.
Looking at Scorsese’s oeuvre one would place this as a third in a trilogy on excess or perhaps a thesis on affluenza, Goodfellas-1990, Casino-1995 and this one. All movies about people who let success and power and money get the better of them. Some would say this is a sister movie to DePalma’s Scarface. Young up and comer sees the Dollar Signs of Capitalistic America wants to make good… does.
Before too long Jordan is fully seduced by the bright lights and the power that money can buy and his first wife leaves him and he falls in with a model, The Duchess of Bay Ridge which in another wonderful example of this unreliable narrator we the viewer are introduced to Naomi Lapaglia whom Jordan describes as a Duchess and you do not find out until well into the film that she is not a Duchess at all but simply Dutch and from Bay Bridge. But Jordan wouldn't tell you that right off would he?
There is a sublime innocence to Jordan’s narrative where one wonders if he never completely grasped the bad things he did. That he found that the only thing he ever did wrong was to cheat on his wife… not with Hookers, they don’t count they are numbers, breasts you pay for- no only when he cheated on his wife with someone you can’t out right pay for. And because all the dupes he swindled with bogus penny stocks were just pink slips and phone numbers and not faces he could think of them as collectables that you have to snipe before someone else did.
Nothing can express his view on people being objects than in the scene where the partners of his firm are discussing the hiring of little people for a Dwarf Tossing game they will bring in. The thoughtless implication that because they are being paid that anything will go including touching their penises yet they take more time discussing what Little People should be called in polite conversation. You see, the social norms are present but the rest can be paid off- much like the secretary who jordan paid 10,000K to shave her head at the End of Day Meeting who was going to use the money for breast implants. Soon, once the alcohol starts flowing she is left alone at her chair with he hair half-shaved as another woman peels off 10K in bills.
All the while Jordan is pursued by an FBI agent Patrick Denham played by Kyle Chandler (Pure Country- 1992) who rides the subway to work and makes less a year than what Jordan makes in a month? a week? Forever vigilant he pushes on to bring Jordan down and resolutely denies the bribe that Jordan delicately offers even after his lawyer told him not to even talk to the FBI. In disgust, Jordan tosses two Lobsters at Agent Denham when he leaves the yacht- those lobsters which probably cost more than the agent makes in an hour- are left in pieces on the deck because Jordan will get more… and more… and more.
So when Jordan arrives at the correctional institution where he will serve out his 22 month jail-term he looks out over the Tennis Court and the lush green trees and says,
“For a brief, fleeting moment, I’d forgotten I was rich and lived in America.”
And no review would be complete without a nod to Jordan’s father played by Rob Reiner (Delivery Boy on Batman- 1967) who adds a wonderful element to Jordan’s manic actions. Although not so ignorant to believe the whole place is legit just innocent enough to assume the best in most cases. A delightful scene to witness happens between Jordan and his father where they discuss Hookers and the lack of hair on females from the eyebrows down. The comic timing is delightful.
The Wolf of Wall Street is not a movie about a man that lived to excess and used people like toilet paper and down Quaaludes like vitamins and did coke off breasts and cheated on his wife with hookers- no, no- The Wolf of Wall Street is a story about a society too comfortable in its ways to fix the system from within, to oust the fat cats who make passing new improved tax laws hard to push through even though we voted them in.
It is not a story about Rich Men doing whatever they like because they have the money to pay off whomever they offend. It is a story about how society has developed to a place that allows Rich Men to do whatever they like because they have the money to pay off whomever they offend. Although most of the shady characters in this film are still happy and content even in their downfall we are reminded that it is us who are the real problem- us the 99%- as it were- for letting it happen.
Is The Wold of Wall Street a good film? Most definitely yes. A funny movie with a social message that some might miss on first viewing- especially after the Palsy Scene. You know what I am talking about.
Do I recommend people see it? Of course, this is what good filmmaker is. A Story. Entertaining. But I feel I must make sure that people with light sensibilities be ready for the debauchery that is flaunted in this film. Just remember it is there for a reason not to sell tickets to teenagers hoping to see Boobies.
This is the film of a true Director through and through. A man back at the top of his game as if he never left.
My vote is this is Best Film and Best Director. Will the Oscar voters agree? Well, Scorsese has been snubbed before.
James C.- The Cold Open-BC