January 23, 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street: Stocks and Shocks

Print More


About 30 seconds after walking into The Wolf of Wall Street, I realized that I should not have gone to the movies with my parents. Nothing says family bonding like an on-screen gay orgy or Leonardo DiCaprio blowing cocaine into a prostitute. The story of New York stock broker Jordan Belfort is a three hour deluge of drugs, sex and money, candy-coated in black comedy.

Like any coming-of-age tale, Belfort starts out as an innocent 22-year-old who wants to make it in the world.  Eager and smart, he heads to big, bad Wall Street where the fun really begins. He learns from his boss (Matthew McConaughey, still gaunt from Dallas Buyers Club) that the key to financial success is sex, cocaine and masturbation. Cocaine is to Jordan Belfort as spinach is to Popeye — I’d love to see that analogy make it onto the SAT.  However, out of all of his addictions and dependencies — including Quaaludes, Xanax, Ambien, pot, cocaine, morphine and hookers — he is most proudly addicted to money.  “Enough of this shit’ll make you invincible, able to conquer the world and eviscerate your enemies,” Belfort states after unrolling a 100-dollar bill dusted with the cocaine he just snorted.

Belfort, known as The Wolf amongst his colleagues and employees, is obsessed with possessions. Hell, who isn’t? He even thinks of his own wife (he’s moved on to wife number two) and children as possessions — a true trophy family. Terence Winter, who wrote the screenplay, accurately describes Belfort’s second wife Naomi (Margot Robbie), as a living wet dream. Robbie expertly conceals her Australian background with a killer Brooklyn accent in her American film debut. Though Naomi appears to be a bimbo who only makes eyes at men with money, she becomes a voice of reason throughout the film. She is fine with hiding money in Swiss bank accounts and putting up with Jordan’s ridiculous habits, but draws a line where it affects her and her children’s well-being. Through Naomi, the bimbo who becomes suddenly maternal when Belfort crashes a car with young son in tow, The Wolf of Wall Street leaves room for a dense feminist critique of the plot, but that would ruin all the fun.

Scorsese has worked with DiCaprio many times in the past (Shutter Island, The Departed, The Aviator), but never on this sort of project. DiCaprio’s character is so dramatic and larger-than-life that he feels like a character out of Stefan’s Saturday Night Live sketch. Scorsese’s portrait of Belfort’s life continues to shock more the longer the film goes on. The film uses the word “fuck” more frequently than almost any other movie in existence, not counting Fuck, an aptly-named documentary about the word. At 569 uses, that means “fuck” was used 3.18 times per minute. I like to imagine the script meetings when Winter, Scorsese and Belfort (the actual Jordan Belfort helped out) sat and decided how many boobs, vaginas, and lines of cocaine to show. The film begs the question: is there such a thing as moderation?

For a film centered on such an unlikeable character and excessive crime, the end feels gentle. To give a serious ending, reminiscent of Catch Me If You Can, to a film that opens with stock brokers tossing dwarves onto bullseyes in the middle of the office just seems wrong. Though an offensive ride, The Wolf of Wall Street is an exhilarating one, and viewers are right in the passenger seat. Hopefully not in the passenger seat of his Lamborghini, helicopter or massive yacht, all of which he crashed. Leo already got a Golden Globe for The Wolf of Wall Street, but will he finally get his Oscar? If he wins, I hope he uses McConaughey’s money chant in place of an acceptance speech.