After seeing one of this year’s main blockbusters, Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby,” it appeared that many people walked out of the theater with a lot to say about the movie: the cast, the wild parties, the modern soundtrack. It seemed that because everyone knows the story of Gatsby, they just had to see this adaptation.
But there were actually two films this year in which Leonardo DiCaprio played the role of a glorified, money-rolling schemer with an enormous property on Long Island. And the difference between “The Great Gatsby” and this year’s other major DiCaprio motion picture, “The Wolf of Wall Street,” the story of Jordan Belfort, is not just one of the most widely known stories in post-war America. It’s a true story.
Belfort, author of the original memoir The Wolf of Wall Street, is a real person whose life story became the basis for one of the most heavily debated movies of this year by the same name.
The three-hour long, first-person-narrated film directed by the critically acclaimed Martin Scorsese (“Gangs of New York”), is an aggrandized chronicle of the equally embellished and tasteless life of a man who established his career with a contorted version of the American dream.
Starting out as a young, bright-eyed newcomer at a New York brokerage firm in the late 1980s, Belfort is quickly introduced to the indulgence and excitement that happens behind the closed doors of the stockbroking industry. Initially turned on by colleague Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”) — who teaches him a now-infamous chest-beating exercise and explains why snorting cocaine throughout the day and drinking hard liquor in the morning are completely necessary acts each day — Belfort becomes enraptured by this lifestyle and aspires to attain it.
But once Belfort becomes one of the biggest money-sucking animals of the concrete jungle and reaches his dream of owning one of the largest brokerage firms in New York City, basking in all its pleasures, he gets caught up in the dream web and drowns in his own ego.
This movie is an enormously shocking and vulgar yet invigorating piece of work. It’s captivating from its opening scene — an epitomizing snapshot of Belfort in the prime of his distasteful life in which he crash-lands a helicopter in his backyard and then consumes a dangerous amount of cocaine off the body of a prostitute. It’s invigorating through its end, when Belfort finally meets multiple federal agencies as a result of his deceivingly-named, over-the-counter firm Stratton Oakmont’s securities fraud. Throughout all of it, “The Wolf of Wall Street” has you on the edge of your seat.
It’s both a brutal comedy and painful drama. For example, in one scene, Belfort’s business partner Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill, “Moneyball”), completely pilled-out, publicly pleasures himself to the appearance of a hot blonde model at a mansion party. Yet there are other much darker scenes that are relatively scary. Toward the end of the film, DiCaprio hits a wall with his Lamborghini at full speed in a drugged-induced fit of rage and comes dangerously close to murdering his own child.
But the real debate concerns whether this movie is supposed to be an empowerment or a condemnation of this lifestyle — or both.
On the one hand, Scorsese’s use of the film’s first-person narration allows viewers to get inside the mind of the main character, and makes Belfort’s ridiculously obscene, violent life amusing in a twisted sort of way, even if we don’t want to admit it. Belfort is a regular user of prostitutes, allowing for numerous scenes of offensive soft-core pornography. He spends a disgusting amount of money on cocaine and Quaaludes. And he owns every kind of private luxury vehicle in existence.
And although seeing men’s darkest, most animalistic pleasures completely taken out of proportion may not seem tasteful on the surface, Belfort is successful in most everything he does and has the time of his life — and that is stimulating to most viewers.
But when dissected a bit further, this movie really is a true revelation of vulgarity and greed that discloses the ugly face of our capitalistic society. Belfort is a complete addict — not just to sex, drugs and gambling, but to excess itself. The corruption he basks in doesn’t make him blink an eye, revealed by the scene — which varies slightly from the true story — where he decides stepping down from his position at Stratton Oakmont is not an option.
By the end of the film, his three some-odd years in prison come off as trivial to the grand scheme of his life. The art of “The Wolf of Wall Street” is that when you walk out of the theater you feel like Belfort is “the man” — a wildly successful, wealthy, good-looking guy — but then you remember how completely filthy and disgusting he is.
Either way, there is absolutely no denying that this dark comedy, already nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, is utterly exhilarating. After all, all that really matters is that it sells, right? I think Jordan Belfort would certainly agree.
— By Alana Pockros