Leonardo Di Caprio and Martin Scorse’s fifth outing together. What an outing it is. One filled with drugs, strippers and money. The story is inspired by the memoirs of the lead character; Jordan Belfort. Belfort became known as the Wolf of Wall Street when he made his money from immorally selling penny stocks for grand prices and 50% commission. We spend 3 hours in this film watching Belfort indulge with the mountains of money he’s made, while making more and trying to avoid the attention of the FBI.
It’s an exhilarating ride from the bottom, to halfway up, back to the bottom and then shot straight to the top. After Belfort’s training cum pep talk from the brilliant Matthew McConaughey. Who gives him the home truths and the tricks to the trade. McConaughey improvised a composing chant, that Scorses loved so much, it was extended in the script and referred to later in the narrative. improvises a composing. After discussing Belfort’s tendencies to onanism we see his first day as an official stockbroker. Monday, October 19, 1987. Otherwise known as Black Monday.
No one on Wall Street is hiring stock brokers anymore. Except for little places selling pink slips or penny stocks. Cheap stocks of which the broker earns 50% commission. (Higher stake stocks the commission is only 1%.) This is where we see the characters first time doing what he is famous. A forgivable trope of biopics. His sales pitch and how he convinces this unexpecting citizen to part with 4 grand for a worthless company is so capturing, all traces of immorality are forgotten.
Belfort makes this company rich as well as himself. This attracts the attention of Jonah Hill’s slimy character Donnie Azoff. They start their own business together with local “salesmen” flogging penny stocks for lots of money and taking half. Jonah Hill is again showing (post-Moneyball) how versatile of an actor he is. He took a huge pay-cut; earning the Screen Actor’s Guild’s minimum wage.
After Belfort’s brainwave of targeting the 1% richest people and in turn earning much more for himself the film turns into a tale of bacchanalian debauchery and excess. It’s so invigorating. Much has been said about the morality behind glamourising a corrupt lifestyle; but it is not the duty of the film to teach morality but to show an exciting true biopic. The excess is shown to be appealing and there is not much in the way of consequences represented on screen. We have 2 hours 40 of excess and 20 minutes of consequences. The film is effective in showing how quickly things can change.
The films suffers from serious sexual politics issues; most of the female characters are wives, girlfriends or sex workers. Except for a notable exception of Kimmie Belzor who was one of the Belfort’s firm’s first brokers. She had nothing, but he believed in her. Why haven’t we seen much of her elsewhere. Just because the character is a misogynist does not mean the film has to be.
After the film I wasn’t sure whether to go crazy and indulge or get my life in order before the consequences kick in. The lack of female roundness is a problem but otherwise an exciting, exhilarating, morally grotesque experience of luxury indulgence, privilege and of course… money.