Got to give it to Martin Scorsese’s distributor for their great sense of timing: the consumerist orgy that is the holiday season is an apt backdrop for the release of “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Also, if you think you’ve already placed your Oscar bets, you may want to think again.
“Wolf” is quite the juicy offering this end-of-year in theaters. Budget cuts? Unemployment blues? Who in their right mind is going to turn their back on a movie that, within ten minutes of its opening, shows Leonardo Di Caprio, the century’s most bankable star, sniff a rail of cocaine within centimeters of a call-girl’s anus?
Before the book which this movie was adapted from landed in bookstores in 2007, the Scorsese-DiCaprio duo had been foaming at the mouth hoping to buy the rights before everyone else. The book in question (Bantam Books, 2007) is a delirious retelling (as he sat in prison) by a then-young playboy millionaire Jordan Belfort of his years in investment banking. Belfort was tried and arrested for money laundering and securities fraud while he ran Stratton Oakmont, a Long Island-based investment company which specialized in marketing penny stocks, a dubious investment category which can yield commissions of upward of 50%.
Belfort and his ever-multiplying devotees (young brokers who numbered in the thousands as the company peaked) spent their day on the phone pressuring buyers into buying their stock offerings, financial products which held almost no value but which insured its seller outlandish profits.
Belfort, handsome and motivational, galvanized his troops with his capacity to generate extraordinary profits in a very short time. As he raised equity for the unexceptional brand Steve Madden he made $ 12.5 USD within three minutes. What makes Belfort’s story particularly outlandish is that the Queens, N.Y. native was a major-league junkie, a self-indulgent user of quaaludes, xanax, booze, crack, and morphine. And no such story would be complete without a mention of the mountains of cocaine that fueled parties at which well-paid call-girls service Belfort and his hoods after long workdays spent defrauding all manners of fools (where cocaine is concerned it’s no secret that Scorsese himself was a vacuum-cleaner during his own heyday, and should’ve probably been six feet under a long time ago. But at 71 he’s still going strong).
In 2002, Scorsese’s momentous encounter with Leonardo Di Caprio delivered an unhoped-for spark after the creative partnership with De Niro had ended. Scorsese and Di Caprio co-produced “Wolf,” conceptualizing the film like a luxury car set to tear around the track at the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Monaco. Di Caprio, never having lived up to his flamboyant career up to now, has definitively done it. The scenes in “Wolf” in which he loses total control, when his character crashes his helicopter in the garden of his villa, or when writhes on the ground in full apoplexy towards his Porsche after having taken some pills past their use-by date, or clamors for more drugs as his yacht is sinking out in the high sea, are instant myth-makers.
“The Wolf of Wall Street” is manifestly Scorcese’s entropic portrait of the ascent, and subsequent crash of, a seductive asshole driven by his own blinding self-interest. It sells like a mash-up between Fellini’s “Satyricon (for its lewd decadence and bestial sounds) and “Scarface” (a biopic about a self-medicating prick destined to be worshipped by legions of brainless pampers-wearing gangsters). Scorsese seems to be making a mild (an understatement) condemnation of the immorality of American-style greed, our fascination for free-market aggressiveness, and Wall Street’s extraordinary hubris.
This film can be associated to that part of Wall Street history during which we danced the macarena at the edge of the void. Because what is the “financial crisis” but simply a purge of toxins accumulated during a greedy regime? “Wolf” is a reflection of this triumph of the obesity, one which proliferates, swells to fantastic proportions, explodes, then, swimming in its own vomit, finds strength again and starts anew. This extraordinary vitality is fascinating to us, but it’s also threatening.
Today, Belfort is free. He owes 110 million dollars to about 1,500 investors, although he does not seem in a hurry to pull out his checkbook.
Ali Naderzad can be reached here: @alinaderzad
Visit Jordan Belfort’s site: http://usa.jordanbelfort.com/