The Movie Date is a weekly feature where we discuss movies that may appeal to the YA audience. Andrew is The Reading Date’s resident movie critic and this week he discusses Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street.
Based on fact, this film tells the story of an earnest stockbroker who discovers the lucrative world of penny stocks, opens a brokerage house, and goes power-mad.
For sheer thrills and laughs, this may be Martin Scorsese’s most entertaining picture ever. A bit like Goodfellas, this is a headlong plunge into decadence and nefarious deeds, with nary a qualm or second thought. The hookers ‘n’ blow are plentiful and the rock ‘n’ roll is cranked up to 11. And when the giant party comes crashing down and the bill comes due, it’s as painless as possible.
Fresh out of school, young Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an eager young broker in a high-pressure Wall Street “boiler room” sales call center. He’s mentored by a helpful if debauched older broker (Matthew McConaughey, in a very brief role) and has some success, but the 1987 market crash puts him out on the street. In a shabby Long Island office, he learns that risky “penny stocks” pay dealers 50% commissions (rather than the 1% from accredited stocks). He’s rich almost instantly, and fascinated neighbor Donnie (Jonah Hill) is determined to taste the good life, too. With Jordan’s genius, penny stocks’ high yield, and zero scruples, their new brokerage house takes off into the stratosphere. Nearly unbelievable celebrations erupt with prostitutes, Quaaludes, and cash being tossed around like so much candy.
Jordan’s rich enough to get whatever he wants, and when he lays eyes on sultry blonde Naomi (Margot Robbie), he begs her to become his second wife as he hastily discards his first. Meanwhile, intrepid and annoyingly honest FBI Agent Denham (Kyle Chandler, Friday Night Lights) suspects serious mischief and comes sniffing around Jordan’s yacht, where he’s greeted cordially and ejected rudely. Desperate to stash his cash away from prying Bureau eyes, Jordan leaves it with a charming but duplicitous Swiss banker (Jean Dujardin, The Artist). Ultimately some long-expired prescription meds and a wild yacht ride through choppy Italian seas bring Jordan to his day of reckoning. Because crime doesn’t pay… or does it?
The comparisons to Scorsese’s earlier Goodfellas are many: both films are based on memoirs by real-world crooks, both seem to celebrate a two-fisted crime lifestyle, and both feature heroes who consider ratting out their shady friends when the Feds close in. But unlike Goodfella’s Henry Hill, this film’s Jordan never hesitates to break (or bend) the law, and feels no twinge of remorse when things go sour for the ones he loves. Rather than Goodfella’s “good man gone bad” story, this is more like “bad man gets worse.”
For that reason it’s hard to sympathize with Jordan and say, “I would have done that too.” Instead, you kind of have to watch his life through a pane of glass and laugh, saying “What a hedonistic louse.” There’s a name for this kind of film, and it’s comedy. And if you’re willing to watch a 180-minute comedy about a debauched high-finance clown getting his comeuppance, I think you’ll love this film. As I told Lucy leaving the theatre, “That was like a three-hour theme-park ride.” Jordan’s character arc isn’t as interesting as the players in this year’s bigger Oscar hopefuls such as Gravity, Dallas Buyers Club, and American Hustle, so I don’t think it’ll do as well on Academy night. But if you want pure entertainment, do I have an investment opportunity for you…
Note: This film has come under some criticism for its portrayal of females, most of whom exist at the discretion of wealthy males. There’s really only one lead female character—Jordan’s wife Naomi—and she’s so cold and conniving that she’s hard to empathize with. Lucy and I agreed that, while none of this was actually offensive—just a portrait of strange people at a strange time—it did leave us feeling detached. For these reasons the film may be hard to enjoy for some female (or female-friendly) viewers. Caveat emptor!
The Wolf of Wall Street is now playing in theaters. It’s rated R and runs 180 minutes.