“The only thing standing between you and your goal is the bullshit story you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it” – the real Jordan Belfort
The movie The Wolf of Wall Street is based on the memoir of Jordan Belfort, a man whose story had already inspired one movie, Boiler Room. Martin Scorsese’s film is a much better movie, and offers more insight into a man for whom there was never enough. Never enough money. Never enough sex. Never enough drugs. Jordan Belfort should be made the poster boy for the era of conspicuous consumption that went on in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio, Belfort is starting his first job on Wall Street as the film begins. He is mentored briefly by “Jack Hanna” (Matthew McConaughey), his boss. However their relationship is cut short because of an event we now know as “Black Monday”, the day in October of 1987 when the stock market fell over 500 points.
Desperate for work, Belfort is about to apply for other types of jobs until his wife Teresa Petrillo (Cristin Milioti) spies an ad for stock brokers at a place called the Investor Center. Belfort goes there for an interview and once he begins, the rest of the brokers are blown away by his technique for selling the penny stocks they deal with. Not listed on any regulated stock exchange, these stocks are listed on what are called pink sheets and while the prices are low, the commissions are huge.
Soon Belfort is starting his own firm, Stratton Oakmont and it grows like a wildfire. The money is rolling in. Jordan Belfort becomes known for the excess he lavishes on himself and his employees. While he’s throwing wild parties for his employees and exhorting them to sell more and more on the office PA system, he’s also snorting massive quantities of cocaine, dropping Quaaludes and screwing prostitutes on a regular basis.
Things change along the way. Teresa is replaced by wife #2, Naomi Lapaglia (Margot Robbie), they have a daughter, a great big house and all seems good. His father Max (Rob Reiner) is overseeing the company’s finances with an iron fist. Then Stratton Oakmont handles the Initial Public Offering (IPO) of Steve Madden’s company (Madden is portrayed by Jake Hoffman). The FBI begins an investigation into Belfort and his firm and from that point, it’s an even wilder ride than before.
Some of Scorsese’s best films have been displays of the excesses of historical figures. Goodfellas and Casino’s characters are fictional versions of real people. Raging Bull and The Aviator show actors portraying some or all of the real people involved in the story. While characters other than DiCaprio’s performance as Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street are fictionalized versions of the real people; who those real people are/were is evident on the screen. Showing off the foibles and flaws of such people is one of Scorsese’s fortes.
However, while this is a good film, it isn’t a great film and suffers by comparison with his earlier works. The actors give strong performances, particularly Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie and Jean Dujardin. When a film goes well beyond the two hour mark in running time, it challenges the stamina, attention-span and bladder of its audience. This movie runs 179 minutes and with the f-bomb being dropped 506 times (a new record for a mainstream non-documentary film) that’s one f**k every 21 seconds, on average.
There are some who think this movie glorifies and excuses the actions of Belfort and cohorts. That is not the case. If anything, it points out that the American financial systems are in need of more and better oversight. Sadly, The Wolf of Wall Street virtually ignores the victims of Belfort’s crimes, and to give them less than he gave them is a terrible shame.