The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
December 26, 2013 § Leave a comment
(10/10) “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”- Gordon Gecko, Wall Street, 1987. These words were technically created by screenwriter and film director Oliver Stone for his seminal film about the apex of the stock trading Mecca-decade known as the 1980’s. Everybody was getting rich and people knew it was too good to be true. Stone capitalized on this, but couldn’t simply adapt a real person’s story, because though many men had bits and pieces of what he was looking for through research, nobody stood out as truly larger than life in both their unscrupulousness and their personality. Had Stone waited about a decade to make his movie, Wall Street very well may not have been about a fictional Gordon Gecko, but of the very real Jordan Belfort.
By now everybody knows this film exists thanks to the unavoidable posters, banner ads and trailers popping up everywhere. The final box office tally for its opening day hasn’t officially come in, but analysts are already projecting it to be the supreme Christmas holiday season hit: The final true blockbuster of 2013. It’s a fitting cherry on top of a year that has seen immense financial gains in a world market that has been relentlessly suffering since approximately 2008. I, myself, graduated college nearly eight months ago and have yet to get a single paying job offer in any sector and I’ve applied to most of them multiple times. I play the lottery. I comb over news stories about hundred-million dollar paydays for athletes and movie stars, people who get $15 million a year and their market declares them technically underpaid and often times I agree. Yet here I stand without two pennies to rub together.
DiCaprio stars as Belfort based on script adaptation of Belfort’s autobiographical book of the same title, written by Terrence Winter. This is no surprise because Martin Scorsese directed the film. DiCaprio and Winter are Scorsese’s right hand men in his last decade of filmmaking. Together they have created the truly wildest ride at the movies you’ll experience this year, let alone this Holiday season. Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Bentleys, Rolls-Royces, orgies, dwarf tossing, casual references to one and two million dollar paydays, mega mansions, mega yachts, gorgeous female models for days and all the cocaine Tony Montana could’ve ever hoped to have sold. DiCaprio lets loose for this role in a way we’ve never seen. He tends to lean towards more controlled characters, either with brooding quiet intensity or calm dignity broken up by outbursts of passion and angst. He’s a machine when it comes to catharsis and pathos. This is not one of those roles. This is Ryan Reynolds’s cult college party movie character Van Wilder with a blank check and Wall Street style. This is pure joy, confidence, fun and arrogance.
The film follows roughly ten years of Jordan’s life, in which he was a relentless tornado of money making and partying. The film is three-hours long and a lot of the scenes tend to feel like they’re glorifying his lifestyle: His massive Quaalude addiction, his fiercely close bond with right hand man in business and pleasure, Donnie Azamoff (real name Danny Porush), a portly and perverse man who was perhaps less scrupulous than Belfort himself. Azamoff, is played by ever-evolving comedian Jonah Hill, who disappears into the role in a way we’ve never seen him do. This is the apex of his career and I honestly cannot imagine a more intriguing or fun role for the guy to get in the next fifty years, unless he manages to get involved in some more larger than life true tales. Azamoff is brash, stubborn, cocky and perverted. It’s pretty spectacular to witness.
The celebration of excess is a façade for examining the physical, emotional and spiritual toll it takes on people. Through the constant narration of DiCaprio as Jordan, both omnisciently and by breaking the fourth wall, he praises his partners in crime only to quixotically end a rant with their post-scripts, many of which are grim and sadly fitting fates for men and women who chose to break the law and drain the bank accounts of more honest folks than themselves. Just like gangster flicks with guns and blood, money proves to be the root of all evil and nobody gets out alive- or at least happy and whole.
Jordan was indicted in 1997 for his stock manipulation crimes. He spent two years in jail and owed the government and his investors $110 million in restitution. According to my brief research, he’s paid back over $11 million of that to date, but has apparently slowed down of late, causing renewed government scrutiny.
It’s a fun film, a film filled with laughs and moments that will make you guffaw at the reality these men enjoyed and endured for half-a-decade. A short time period in the grand scheme of human life that sits roughly on a hundred-point scale and usually much less than that, but a period that is so intense it’s hard to believe how brief it truly was upon reflection. I’m sure the past decade and a half haven’t been nearly as memorable for the real life Belfort as the five-plus years this film depicts.
Whether you’re disgusted by his antics, enamored of them or take them at face value and move on, you won’t help but be mesmerized for one hundred eighty minutes. This is the all around best acting and most fun I have seen all year.
The review ends here and I will follow with some back-story and my own personal thoughts that veer more into Op-Ed territory:
I have to tell you, Jordan Belfort is an anti-hero, a Robin Hood that became a greedy king, being the criminal that he was. Jordan Belfort is very real. Born in the Bronx to two accountants and made his way to Wall Street with dreams of making it big. He was a pretty face, a slick talker and a relentless stock seller. He would say anything to sell stock to anybody at the highest prices he could sweet talk people like myself into spending. According to the film, after six months on probation, Belfort’s very first day as a licensed broker, a legitimate businessman as it were, was Monday October 19, 1987. The Dow-Jones Industrial Average dropped 508 points. That doesn’t mean a whole lot to me. But the number 22.61 does. That’s the percentage of the market it represented. Imagine largest stock index in the world losing a quarter of its worth. It’d mean financial ruin for many individuals and certainly many stock trading companies. Within days his eighty-year old company was folded and Belfort was looking in the help wanted ads, contemplating stock boy positions at Circuit City. The thing is, like so many others and me, Belfort desperately wanted to become rich. He wasn’t sure how rich at the time, but he knew he wanted to make his money on Wall Street then go home to easy street. He was twenty-five, roughly my same age.
Again, according to the film adaptation of his auto-biography, Belfort found a tiny but intriguing help wanted ad in the newspaper for a penny stock trading company, a little no nothing job located at a strip mall between stores like Dairy Queen and Payless Shoes. Supposedly he made profits in mere minutes that took the other guys at that gig a month or a year. Jordan did this by convincing desperate people like myself that they could invest five or ten thousand of their precious, hard earned dollars and makes thirty, maybe even sixty, on return. This was all smoke and mirrors for the truth, which was that they were investing in companies that barely existed financially that were hardly more profitable than myself when I go to my folks to ask for a few bucks to see a movie or get gas in the car they let me drive.
Despite the fallacy of his sales tactics, Jordan took a job that should’ve made him a moderate five-figure income on an already exorbitant fifty-percent commission. He managed to earn himself over fifty thousand dollars every month. He quickly decided his britches were too big to be a cog in a small office, so he opened his own firm, calling it “Stratton Oakmont” because it sounded classy. Once the firm opened, he brought in a bunch of childhood friends from the Bronx who were themselves shyster salesmen, hustlers, drug dealers- all harmless blue collar schnooks just trying to get by, but hustlers nonetheless. He transformed these guys into Never-Take-No-For-An-Answer penny stock salesmen, perfecting a highly illegal practice known as “Pump and Dump” where they’d get desperate working class folk to buy up way more of a weak, cheap stock then anybody in their right mind should and then he and his pals would sell their own shares once the price was inflated enough- shares owned via unconnected friends who’d then get a cut of the profits once the cash was handed over to Jordan under the table. Jordan and his friends built up the company until they employed over one thousand brokers and had sold nearly a billion dollars worth of sham riches to unsuspecting folks like myself.
Jordan reportedly pocketed between $100-200 million of this himself. He went through two wives, one a sweetheart from his days of innocence, another a trophy wife who left him when the shit hit the fan. In some ways, it’s easy to wish to be him, but in other ways, it’s not. Morally it’s a quandary and today’s regulations make it harder to successfully pull off his almost transparent pump and dump method for even a few months, let alone half a decade.
The fact that he’s made paid off nearly twelve-million of his restitution to the government means he was handing over about one million a year in honest cash and I assume, manages to pocket a bit more for cost of living. When you consider this is after taxes, it’s still very impressive. Clearly he was destined for financial greatness no matter what and simply flew too close to the sun.
I play the lottery. I hope to one day earn Jordan’s money through sheer luck and happenstance, because I am fairly certain I won’t come close to even fifty-thousand a year doing it my way. But passion is passion. Jordan’s passion is to make money. My passion is to write about people like him and dream. At least my dreams coming true won’t land my in the pokey. By the way, that Gecko quote is based on real life insider trader Ivan Boeskey, who made and was fined hundreds of millions before doing a stint in prison, much like Belfort. The real quote: “Greed is right”