Posted by: ckckred | January 23, 2014

His Bark Is Worse Than His Bite: An Assessment of The Wolf of Wall Street

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Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street has proved to be the most decisive studio release of 2013.  Under a $100 million budget and an all-star cast, Wolf has stirred quite much controversy for its excessive use of sex and profanity, which makes even Casino look tame in comparison.  But the largest criticism of the film is the way how it depicts protagonist Jordon Belfort, a real-life stockbroker who made millions off of his clients by lying about prices and breaking the law, as a hero.  Belfort lives in a mansion and has a supermodel wife, not to mention stacks of money that he frequently uses for cocaine and hookers.  Christina McDowell, daughter of a financer who worked with Belfort, accused Scorsese and star Leonardo DiCaprio of glamorizing Stratton Oakmont and its practices, declaring, “You have successfully aligned yourself with an accomplished criminal, a guy who still hasn’t made full restitution to his victims, exacerbating our national obsession with wealth and status and glorifying greed and psychopathic behavior.”

I’ve seen The Wolf of Wall Street twice now, the second time this past weekend, and neither time I watched it did I believe that Scorsese wanted us to think that Belfort was living it in the high lane (for the record, Belfort announced he has not made a penny of the picture’s success).  DiCaprio has already responded to the criticism, saying, “We’re not condoning this behavior… we’re indicting it.”  But Wolf makes it clear that Belfort is a liar and a thief from the beginning to the end.

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There is reason behind McDowell’s argument and she has every right to complain.  Her father had laundered money under her name and left $100,000 in debt to her when he went to prison.  But if anything, The Wolf of Wall Street is a condemnation of capitalist behavior, made more relevant by the recent economic crash.  The characters in the movie are depicted as living like kings, but their pride is based on no foundation or truth.  And there isn’t a happy ending for Stratton Oakmont, which the FBI shuts down at Wolf’s conclusion.

Rather, Scorsese and writer Terence Winter use Belfort as a mouthpiece for economic ruin.  Belfort arrives to New York on the eve of the crash of ’87.  He dreams of making it big and after receiving advice from a fellow stockbroker (played by Matthew McConaughey) attempts to take on all of Wall Street.  Once the economy falls, Belfort moves out to Long Island where he starts Stratton Oakmont, where he and his employees blows up penny stocks to drive up prices and receive a greater intake than before.  His small beginnings soon end in infamy, deemed the “wolf of Wall Street” by Forbes Magazine for his actions.

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Belfort profits greatly from his misdeeds (when he was 26, he made $49 million) and lives luxuriously, but Scorsese always makes sure the joke’s on him.  Almost all the humor in The Wolf of Wall Street is centered on the buffoonery of Belfort and his friends.  They’re lampooned for their greed and selfishness, like when Belfort goes to the way of sleeping with his wife’s aunt when trying to convince her to open a Swiss bank account to hide his money in or when Belfort attempts to operate his car after consuming Qualuudes.  We aren’t laughing with Belfort, we’re laughing at him.

The Wolf of Wall Street, much like GoodFellas and Casino, is about the rise and fall of a man trying to have the world and everything in it.  Near the end of Wolf, after discovering his wife plans to divorce him and take his children, Belfort snorts up cocaine while sobbing before preceding to take his daughter and crashing his car out of his garage.  That scene alone proves that Belfort wasn’t a king, but rather a miserable junkie.  Seeing The Wolf a second time had me question whether Belfort was ever happy to begin with, an assumption I made for the first time I saw the picture.  Perhaps Belfort had covered himself with wealth and fame to make up for his everlasting need to be recognized.  Once he is sentenced to three years in jail, Belfort seems to realize who he really is and, to paraphrase DiCaprio’s narration, forgot he was even rich.  The reason why I hated the film adaptation of The Great Gatsby last year is that there was no true message to the corruption of 20s America, instead reveling in special effects and an overproduced soundtrack.  The Wolf of Wall Street does link morality to vice and for that reason it’s one of the finest films of 2013.

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Responses

  1. A great argument here. I agree with you I don’t think Jordan was ever happy, he just wanted to be famous and have public opinion on his side. For example he was outraged when he discovered he was nicknamed “The Wolf of Wall Street”.

    • Thanks! I can see the reasoning behind McDowell’s argument, but I think Wolf is a clear criticism of Jordon.

  2. Outstanding post and well said. It’s very Shakespearean–The Wolf of Wall Street–the rise and fall of a supposed king and the price he paid for his excessive corruption. I couldn’t agree more with your position. Nice.

    • Thanks! It does have a Shakespearian feel to it, it’s the most epic film Scorsese has done since Casino.

  3. I don’t think Marty is making any kind of statement that condones this type of behavior. But in some ways wants to have his cake and eat it too. The very thing he is criticizing is the same thing he wallows in for three hours on screen. That’s the reason I just don’t like this film (or what I made it through). I still firmly believe a talented director or screenwriter who is confident in their material can tell this kind of story and relay the depth of the character’s depravity without the overkill onslaught of sex, profanity, and the haze of drug use. I think that’s what spurs the position that he is condoning it. Again, I don’t necessarily think that he is. But he is using a stylistic choice for his storytelling – a choice that I REALLY dislike.

    Great post. Love articles that promote conversation like this.

    • Thanks! I feel that the prominent portrayals of sex and drugs are meant to show the wildness of Jordon and his friends. I agree that they take up too much time of the movie, but I think Scorsese wants us to dislike the characters.

  4. I agree that the film indicts Belfort and his behavior.

    I think Christina, and others, are likely referring to how much this glosses over the victims, the upheaval their lives were thrown into by Belfort and his associates. But even that is, in my opinion, a small complaint. This is a powerful thematic piece.

    (I will say . . . Belfort doesn’t forget he’s rich at the end. DiCaprio’s narration makes it clear that Belfort is nervous about prison, but then realizes he has nothing to worry about . . . because he’s obscenely wealthy. We then see prison looking like a vacation spot for him – he still just gets what he wants. Which serves as further condemnation of stratified financial society.)

    • They do have a good point and I agree that Scorsese probably could have put more life on Belfort’s clients… but at the end of the day there’s still the same message. I loved Wolf more a second time around.

  5. I agree, it doesn’t show Belfort or his cohorts in any great light. At the end of the day, they are just making an adaptation of his book, which apparently is pretty close to this in terms of what happened. Besides, I thought bankers and traders were all ****s before I watched this, and I still think they are all ****s. Go figure!

    • Thanks! Yeah, it’s a clear criticism of Wall Street and its operatives. Phenomenal film.

  6. Great review and much of the discussion has been about the question if it glamourizes the lifestyle. I don’t think it does and agree that the movie makes the viewer laugh about him. I found it a very entertaining movie.

    • Thanks! Belfort clearly isn’t a joker but a clown. The scene where he tries to take his daughter away shows he’s no good.

  7. Excellent argument, very well written. I enjoyed Wolf, and while it isn’t perfect, I don’t think it glamourizes this hedonistic lifestyle. The costs are too high.

    • Thanks! It isn’t a perfect movie (it runs on a bit too long), but it’s a strong criticism of Wall Street.

  8. Good stuff buddy. Very interesting read 🙂

  9. Nice write-up, definitely in agreement with your argument here. 🙂

  10. Interesting read mate! I definitely don’t think it shows him in the best light and that scene towards the end at his house where he puts his daughter in the car shows that. I do think, however, that they tried to show he wasn’t totally evil with that scene where he says he’s leaving and how he helped that woman by giving her $25,000.

    • Thanks! It really goes to prove Belfort’s vileness.

  11. I agree with basically everything you say here. I watched an interview with Scorsese last night where he addressed this saying that many had asked him while he was making the film why he didn’t put something in that clarified his position (like a character to say “oh this is wrong” etc) and he made the point that that’s what everyone is used to and they’ll go home and forget about it because someone simply told them what was wrong. He uses the show rather than tell method here, which is always the best way to go. Marty respects his audience enough not to preach to them, but to show by example exactly what is wrong with this situation and the society that can let it happen. I obviously loved the film and wasn’t really on Jordan’s side, though I noticed a lot of the people in theater were. So I see McDowell’s problem, not everyone is going to realize that Scorsese is condemning this behavior because he doesn’t spell it out, but the film is all the better for it.

    • Thanks! Yeah, I agree, Scorsese’s trying to show Belfort rather than tell. I understand McDowell’s position but it clearly shows Belfort in a negative life.

  12. Oh, what an excellent post. Completely agree with everything. Some of the criticism this film is getting is ridiculous.
    Definitely plan to read the book one day.

    • Thanks! I can understand some of the criticism, but it’s a clear indictment of Belfortt.

  13. Oh, he was happy 🙂 Deliriously happy, I think because he build his own code. The scene where he explains to Naomi why there is nothing wrong in giving FBI his people is amazing – DiCaprio really makes you see he utterly believes in this crap he is saying. The comments against the film are ridiculous, it essentially has the formula like Casino and Goodfellas and blaming the film for what happens is like blaiming the world for how it works.

    • I agree, it’s pretty clear that Scorsese is showing Belfort and his friends as criminals. They’re about as glamorous as the mafia men in GoodFellas and Casino.

  14. Great work my man. What a crazy journey it really was for Belfort and Scorsese and DiCaprio capture that to perfection. Top work!

    • Thanks! Scorsese and DiCaprio really did capture the thrills of Belfort’s life while deglamorizing his life.


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