Scorsese Month Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenplay By: Terence Winter
Release Date: December 25, 2013
Run Time: 180 minutes
Rating: R

While “The Wolf of Wall Street” isn’t Scorsese’s best movie (that in no way is to say that the film is bad) it is probably the smartest thing he’s done. Smart in that it is trying to make a real, relevant point yes, but more importantly it’s smart in that it is a perfect update to the Scorsese formula. Scorsese made his name telling stories about the mafia and gangsters. So when making a movie like that for the modern age. Who do you focus on? The answer: Wall Street,The Modern Day Gangsters and Crime Lords.
Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a young up and coming Stock Broker who gained the attention of his boss when he tries to sell a stock at his interview. So much so that on his first day Belfort’s boss, Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) offers to take him to lunch. Here Hanna tells Belfort how to make it in the stock market. The most important peace of advise Hanna gives Belfort is…kind of a heavy handed summery of the movies thesis: the free market is bullshit, the stock market is a fraud and as long as you can work it to you advantage who cares about the people you rip off. While I do agree with the over all left of center political views Scorsese is endorsing in the film, having one of the characters basically look top the camera and say “capitalism is inherently wrong and stockbrokers are scum” is a little on the lazy side. The scene isn’t bad, it’s just a little too obvious.
Anyways: the story continues as Belfort takes and passes his setion 7’s and finally becomes a real stockbroker instead of a cold caller. The only problem? His first real day is the same day of a massive market crash. Belfort promptly losses his job and goes to work for another broker company. This particular company sells “pink sheets” or penny stocks. For those who know less than I do about the stock market (and I don’t know much), here is a brief summery: At the time of this writing stock in Disney sells for $90.33. If you bought 1 share and tomorrow the stock went up to $100, you could sell the stock and make $9. 67 profit. The stocks Belfort is selling now sell for around $0.10 each.
However, there is an upside for Belfort: here he gets a 50% commission instead of 1%. So, if he can get some one to buy $4000 dollars worth of stock, he makes $2000. Were as with the other company hes only be making $40. And if nothing else, Belfort is a very good salesman.
As he continues to sell these crap stocks to people he meats who will soon become his best friend and partner (in both stock broking and crime), Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill). At around this same time Belfort’s wife gives him an idea: sell these cheap stocks to wealthier people. See, were for some one like me, buying $4000 worth of stocks is out of my range, for the 1%, they could buy millions worth of these stocks and not even notice the loss. So Belfort and Donnie start their own broker agency, and Belfort teaches some of the lowlifes he used to hang around with how to come off as respectable stockbrokers. The name of this company? Stratton Oakmont. Doesn’t that just sound like the name of a company made to take as much of your money as possible?
As time goes on things are really begin to look up for Belfort and Stratton Oakmont. Every one is making more money that they know what to do with and they are constantly looking for bigger offices. But as a wise man once told me “if it looks too good to be true, it probably is”. With the company growning as fast and doing as well as it was, the FBI begin to ask if Stratton Oakmont’s success was too good to be true. Once Belfort leans about this the movies switches focus on to how he manages to avoids being caught while still doing copious amounts of drugs (and prostitutes), making more money that god and tiring to protect it all. So much happens that I honestly can’t go through everything (the film is 3 hours long). But it is all really good and you should watch it. However, with this movie the one thing I want to talk about the most have nothing to do with the actual movie.
See, when the movie first came out a lot of people were saying that Belfort wasn’t portrayed to be evil enough. With how Belfort is portrayed in the movie that is almost like saying a “Power Ranger” villain isn’t “evil” enough. You literally watch this man steal money hand over fist, cheat on his first wife abuse his second and do enough drugs to stock a small hospital. However, I think the real issue is that Belfort never really pays for his crime. He never gets his comeuppance, so to say. And if you are one of those people, let me just explain this as calmly as possible: THAT WAS THE GOD DAMN POINT. The fact that this man could do what he did and pay so little of a price for it because he was rich was a part of the point the movie was making. If he had paid for everything he did the movie would lose it’s impact. The message would have gone from “we need to end this culture that allows the wealthy to get away with this kind of shit” to “everyone gets what’s coming to them” and that just isn’t true. So yeah, the “controversy” of this movie is soooooo off base with anything even resembling reality that it honestly make me angry to think about.
So, to end this Scorsese Month let’s look at how this movie compares to the other movies I looked at. The first thing I noticed what that the last three movies were all based in either non-fiction or something people believe to be non-fiction. The stories of “Goodfellas” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” are both the stories of real people, while the story of Jesus is…believed by many to have really happened. I’m not sure if that means anything, but it is an interesting discovery. With the first three movies I watched I could see continual growth in Scorsese ability as a story tell. This shows itself in how much better the music is in “The Last Temptation of Christ”, and how much better the over all plot is in “Goodfellas”. In “The Wolf of Wall Street” there isn’t all that much evolution in his directing. However, after making movies for over 40 years, it makes since that he starts to rely on his “persona” as a filmmaker.
If I remember right Scorsese’s next film is going to be a biopic on the punk rock group “The Romans”. I don’t know much about the history of the band, so I can’t say if I find this an “appropriate” use of Scorsese’s talents or not, but they are a great band and Scorsese is a great director, so i’m pretty sure the movie will still be pretty sweet.
And that concludes Scorsese Month 2014. I hope you enjoyed this look at one of my favorite film makers of all time and one of the best working today.