Coming in at a tick under three hours, The Wolf of Wall Street is a long movie. One of my oft repeated mantras is: “A great three hour film feels shorter than a bad ninety minute movie.” Is The Wolf of Wall Street a great film? No, but it is very good, and maybe a tad long. No spoilers, but the butler story could have been excised from the film and no one would notice. The only reason I can think of for its inclusion is to show how “gangster” Jordan Belfort can be. Or is he “gangsta”? You be the judge.
Some would say, “It’s a Martin Scorsese film, let him do what he wants.” I agree–up to a point. It’s that sort of thinking that put some studios in a financial hole in the late Seventies. Maybe that is why there were so many low budget comedies in the early Eighties.
Terence Winter’s screenplay is based on the memoir The Wolf of Wall Street, by Jordan Belfort. Other than the stuff that is public record, I have no idea how much of the story is true. Belfort made a fortune by lying to clients; who’s to say he is telling the truth now? In the movie, Belfort isn’t depicted as a saint, but I wonder if his depictions of others hold up to scrutiny.
Fresh out of college, Jordan (Leonardo DiCaprio) gets a job with the brokerage firm L.F. Rothschild. He catches the eye of his boss, Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey in possibly his most McConaugheyesque role). Mark becomes a guru/role model to Jordan, and not in a good way.
When the stock market takes a dump on “Black Friday,” the firm folds, and Jordan finds himself unemployed. The only firm hiring is one out on Long Island, which happens to be located in a strip mall. That should have been Jordan’s first clue.
Jordan is wearing an Armani suit, while the other “brokers” are dressed like they should be selling drugs to tweens out behind the strip mall. This isn’t what Jordan expected, but when the office manager (Spike Jonze) tells him they are on fifty percent comission, Jordan shows the yokels how it’s done in the big city. He teaches his techniques to the other employees, and soon they are raking in the cash.
Jordan’s neighbor, Donnie Azoff, joins up and they soon strike out on their own. They start a firm with the posh name of Stratton Oakmont, and Jordan recruits some buddies for help. This when Jordan really starts making serious bank.
A lot of people aspire to be “prostitutes and drugs” rich; Jordan was “tossing little people” rich. At one of Jordan’s parties, he meets Naomi (Margot Robbie). Much like homes and cars, Jordan needs to possess Naomi. They begin an affair, and when Jordan’s wife (Cristin Milioti) finds out, she is none too pleased. After the divorce, Jordan marries Naomi. He thinks he has the perfect life and the perfect wife. Boy, is he wrong.
If Jordan is the lowest of the low, what does that make Donnie? Donnie feels that he can get away with anything, since his buddy is the boss. Basically, Jonah Hill is playing the Joe Pesci role from Goodfellas.
Jordan is not a sympathetic character, but I can see some people idolizing him in the same way the real Belfort looked up to Gordon Gekko from the film Wall Street. There are those who may view The Wolf of Wall Street not as a cautionary tale, but as a blueprint. They vow not to makes the same mistakes–they’ll quit while they’re ahead, or keep it on the down low–but there is always the lure of one more deal.
Donnie was an asshole before the money, drugs, and sex–they just amplified his personality deficiencies. At the end of the film, what you take away from The Wolf of Wall Street depends on what you bring into it.