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February 27, 2014

Movie Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

by Ruth Chung

The first things that come to mind when I reminisce about my viewing of Wolf of Wall Street is simply this: money, sex, drugs and, consequently, crazed expressions shared between my unexpecting friend and I. I was nearly taken aback at the extremity to which the film expressed its crude and rogue behaviors. However, there is more to the film than meets its (engagingly superfluous) eye.

Wolf of Wall Street followed the life of a man named Jordan Belfort, who began his career in the late 1980s on Wall Street at a large company that happened to close down some short time after his arrival. Forced to find another job, Belfort transfers to a tiny company that sold penny stocks. From there, he discovered his extreme persuasion skills and starts up his own place. Though his company started small, with only a small group of humble and inexperienced recruits, it soon grows. It quickly becomes known as one of the most successful firms on Wall Street, infamous for its (suspiciously) “quick monetary rewards” as well as its gaudily “after-work,” “party-prone” touch. The film follows Belfort’s rise, capital, and decline, and highlights his ethically questionable motivations.

From a logistic standpoint, the film was done brilliantly. It was directed by Martin Scorsese, an academy award winner for Best Director (with a paragraph’s worth of other awards). Scorsese also directed Goodfellas (1990), Taxi Driver (1976), Hugo (2011), and a few noted others. The script, written by Terence Winter, was extremely witty and the acting was captivating. Leonardo DiCaprio, who played Jordan Belfort, was highly recognized for his role in the film and was nominated for an Oscar for the category “Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role.” His enchanting narration of the film, including memorable moments of him looking directly into the camera and speaking as though the audience were with him, gave the film a comedic and almost charming take (despite its rogue content).

Ethically, however, the film from an objective standpoint was crude almost to the point of offensive. The film’s constant usage of prostitution and the misuse of drugs and other substances seemed to be the center of nearly every other scene. This is most likely due to the film’s portrayal of Jordan Belfort’s main message. From the beginning, Belfort encouraged his employees to splurge on selfish motivations and partake in his desired extravagant lifestyle. He encourages this by bringing prostitutes to work, holding “office-parties” every weekend, and further encourages behaviors such as a time a woman shaved her head (at work) for a sum of money to get breast implants. Belfort continuously motivated his employees by describing greed to be the solution and pathway to all monetary success. He states that he doesn’t care how you get your money–honestly or deceitfully–all he hopes is that he gets his money and that you get yours, too.

While watching the film there are many questions that rise, such as “what is this movie trying to say?” and “What is it saying by exploiting Belfort’s unusually selfish behavior?”

The first thought that came to mind is that it would be unfair to judge the film from an ethical standpoint because the film as a whole has underlying currents of almost rooting Belfort on. Belfort often speaks directly to the camera, not in a condescending or insulting way such as the way he mentions the customers he constantly rips off, but in a way that allows the audience to feel as though they are “with him.” This allows us nearly only one way of viewing Belfort’s life: through the lense that we are glad to be partaking in it. Another point to note while thinking about the film is that there is never a point in it where Belfort tries to moralize his actions. He does not attempt to hide his perhaps unethical or rogue behavior; on the contrary, he seems to flaunt it, constantly trying to pull people in to encourage his methods of madness.

If this is true then, what can we say the movie is trying to tell about the exaggeration of the lifestyles exemplified in this film? If morality is not even addressed, is it saying that this particular lifestyle needs not touch on morality or is the film meant to be seen as a satire? Could it be looked at as an “inspiring tale of success”? While it is clear that this  shallow life would be normally unethical, the film (or, maybe, just DiCaprio) has an enchanting sort of charm on the way the audience is clearly meant to view Belfort.

Wolf of Wall Street is based off of a memoir by Jordan Belfort, published in 2007 under the same name. The New York Times described it as “more boast than confession.”

While the film had many moralistic questions, it was, in all, entertaining and logistically well-made. Both absurdly funny and riotously intense, Wolf of Wall Street has a “DiCaprian charm” of well-expressed extravagance and ludicrous behavior that will be, for many reasons, not soon forgotten.

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