‘Your only regret is gonna be that you didn’t buy more shares!’
That’s the line Jordan Belfort used to reel in suckers, one after the other. Martin Scorsese’s newest epic, called The Wolf of Wall Street, opened yesterday, and this is a film filled with anything but the Christmas spirit.
Early on, Matthew McConaughey, playing superstar stock broker Mark Hanna lays it all out for Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort, and us, ‘that the name of the game was to move the money from your client’s pocket into your own pocket.‘
Advice that Belfort not only understood, but fully embraced. Not only embraced but embellished. Belfort had to put in his time as a connector (the lowest of the low in the Wall Street hierarchy), which was all he could do as he was trainee without a Series Seven License. That’s the exam all stock brokers have to pass before being allowed to sell stocks. As a connector his sole job was to dial a number then say, “Please hold for Jerry Fogel”. After that, he’d graduate up to be a cold caller, then upon passing his Series Seven – he’d be a broker. Unfortunately, when that day occurred, it was the very same day of the infamous market crash of 1987, and Belfort was soon out of a job. The firm he worked for, L.F. Rothschild, closed a month later.
His wife spotted a small ad for a broker in the paper, and Belfort went after the job. This was an investment house in name only. It was located in a forlorn strip mall, and was as tacky, as rundown, and as lame as anyplace you’d ever seen. If you had any money, you wouldn’t want to even set foot in this place, much less give your money to these guys to invest for you.
But when he was told that he would earn a 50% commission on each and every dollar he got people to invest, Belfort was all over the job. Having trained with a Master of the Universe like Mark Hanna, Belfort knew every trick in the book. The orders and the money began to roll in big time.
I know what you’re thinking, how could one out of every two dollars the clients invested go as the broker’s commission? That’s a good question. The answer is simple. They were selling worthless stocks that had almost zero chance of gaining value. That is without some assistance from the seller – and that was called Pump and Dump. As the client was buying at inflated values, they, and I mean Belfort and his pals were selling. If the client somehow wanted to cash out, and take his profit – that was fine, provided the client could be talked into reinvesting the original investment and the profit, into an another worthless venture.
Needless to say Belfort and his pals, cronies from his old Bayside, Queens neighborhood, all got spectacularly rich when Belfort opened his own shop, called Stratton Oakmont. Once Belfort decided to target as their clientele, the wealthiest 1% of Americans, he was on his way. As he called it, America – the land of opportunity.
The words sex and drugs are just the beginning. As some wag, named Oscar Wilde once said, Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess. Of course it wouldn’t and couldn’t last. But that isn’t the point of this gem of a film by Martin Scorsese.
Scorsese has amplified that in visual terms. When you see the film, you won’t doubt for a second why the film’s budget was over 100 million. Lamborghini’s, Ferrari’s, $2000 thousand dollar men’s suits, gold watches, round the clock hookers, palatial mansions located on Long Island’s Gold Coast, 170 foot yachts, and mountains of cocaine. They had it all.
And at the top of all of this, sat Jordan Belfort. Easily, this is Leonardo Di Caprio’s crowning moment as an actor. He is on-screen for pretty much the whole film, and he gives a spectacular performance. His rousing two-a-day sales meetings with his staff and brokers were simply astounding. Beyond that he cavorted with hookers, snorted drugs, and had sex as often as possible. Then he dumped his first wife and married the stunning Margot Robbie, who plays Naomi.
Jonah Hill shines in all his toothy splendor as Belfort’s right hand, Danny Azoff. This Hill is not the nebbish computer whiz we saw him portray in Moneyball, nor is he the nerdy cop from 21 Jump Street. No, this time around – he will snort coke, wolf down quaaludes by the fistful, whore around, and piss on government subpoenas (and I mean that literally), and honestly, Hill as Azoff will exceed anything you might have imagined for him.
You’d never guess that Margot Robbie is from Australia. She is gorgeous, and when you hear her Long Island accent = well you get the idea.
Also worth a commendation, although he has but 10 minutes or so on-screen, is Matthew McConaughey as Mark Hanna. The guy is the personification of slick. And for every one of his 10 minutes, he absolutely commands your attention. Yes, Di Caprio’s Belfort is but a novice listening to the words of Hanna’s Master of the Universe, but that doesn’t detract from Matthew’s performance. He not only steals the scenes he’s in – he owns them.
Maestro Martin Scorsese has done ‘excess’ before. Think of Casino with Robert De Niro‘s pastel suits, and Sharon Stone‘s drug use, and the incessant fighting between De Niro’s Ace Rothstein, Stone’s Ginger, and Joe Pesci‘s Nicky Santoro.
Think of Goodfellas with its inside look at mob violence and crime.
Or consider that Di Caprio and Scorsese have worked together four times before this film – Gangs of New York, Shutter Island, The Aviator, and The Departed. In my opinion this is their best pairing.
The Wolf of Wall Street is no cautionary tale about the downfall of those that lived their lives in terms that go far beyond excess. Rather it is a black comedy that plays out as a story where the lead players have no limits. Or no inhibitions. Or more accurately, unlike most of us, they have no mechanisms that function as life self-governing regulators that say – you’d better stop. Or you can’t do that – it’s not right.
For Belfort and his pals, every moment is lived pedal-to-the-metal. Every day is a day where you can not only have fantasies, but you have the means to actually make them come true and live out those very same fantasies.
As you watch, you might consider how did this film get away with only an R-Rating. As you watch, you might say that you are a bit jealous of these guys. Or you might say, this is too much. This is so far over the top, you can’t even remember where the top was.
This doesn’t have a mob kind of violence to it like Goodfellas. Unlike The Departed, you don’t hope the lead is killed off. And unlike The Aviator, this isn’t about a successful man losing himself to paranoia. To differentiate this from Casino, this isn’t about angry, bitter, and hateful people.
Instead it is about people wanting to and having what they considered to be a good time. It is about people who would do almost anything to have that good time. And the good times never stopped. Until they did.
This may not be a film that everyone will like. Some will be offended by the nudity, the drugs, the implied sex, as well as the utter disregard of such things as legality and morality. But before you let that stop you, that’s why I called this a black comedy. Scorsese is not advocating the life-styles portrayed by his actors, or the real life Belforts. He’s just giving you his look at a very real story. Check out the trailer.
While I am not calling this Martin Scorsese’s best film ever, I am calling it the best film I’ve seen this year. I’m going to reward Scorsese, his screenplay writer Terence Winter, and his stellar cast headed by the amazing Leonardo Di Caprio with a five point zero rating. My highest rating.