The Wolf of Wall Street

Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a young stock broker looking for a new gig after his first job ended following the Black Monday crash of 1987.  Desperate to get back to the luxury lifestyle he got a small taste of before; Belfort begins selling penny stocks from a storefront operation at a strip mall.  Employing the same techniques for penny stocks that he used for the blue chips, Belfort soon begins raking in big money from clients like mailmen, garbage men, teachers and factory workers.  Deciding he can do better on his own, Belfort starts his own operation in an old mechanic garage with some of the guys from the penny stock job.  Joining him is Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), a former furniture salesman who quit his job when Belfort showed him a paystub for $72,000 he earned in one month.  Azoff and the other sellers use Belfort’s tactics and quickly become very successful; but Belfort wants more.  He begins pitching blue chip stock to potential clients but then tacks on the cheap stocks as well which pays him a much higher commission.  Belfort rebrands the company as Stratton Oakmont and creating a phony background of stability and longevity.  The redesign works and soon the company has new and much larger offices on Wall Street and employs hundreds of high-pressure sellers.  Forbes magazine does an article on the company and Belfort, dubbing him the Wolf of Wall Street.  At first angry, Belfort realizes the benefit of the publicity and is soon flooded with eager young stockbrokers looking for work.  The decadent lifestyle Belfort and the others live of drugs and sex takes its toll on Belfort’s marriage and he and his wife Teresa (Cristin Milioti) divorce after she finds out he’s having an affair with a woman named Naomi Lapaglia (Margot Robbie).  Soon, Naomi and Belfort marry and his life is perfect.  There is however storm clouds on the horizon as the Securities and Exchange Commission and the FBI are looking into his business practices.  Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) meets with Belfort after Jordan calls the agent.  A brief meeting on Belfort’s yacht doesn’t go well after Belfort makes a veiled bribery attempt of Denham, giving the agent even more reason to go after the brash tycoon.  Belfort is also addicted to cocaine, Quaaludes, power, money and sex, making him reckless and unpredictable.  Soon there are efforts to smuggle money into Switzerland and hide it in secret bank accounts using Naomi’s Aunt Emma (Joanna Lumley) as a go-between.  Between the drugs, the pressure from the Feds and his deteriorating marriage to Naomi, Belfort struggles to keep all the balls he’s juggling in the air.
“The Wolf of Wall Street,” based on the book by the real Jordan Belfort who swindled investors to the tune of over $200-million, is the kind of movie that stretches credibility with the amount of shenanigans depicted going on in the offices of a Wall Street investment firm.  Apparently, many of the wilder scenes depicted are in line with what Belfort wrote in his book.  If that’s the case, it’s a wonder anyone survived.  It leads to the frightening thought that none of us really know what goes on in the ivory towers of America’s investment giants where many of us have our retirement savings.  Considering the financial meltdown of 2007, it would appear there are more Belforts in the fold of brokers and money managers.  While this is a scary scenario, watching it played out on screen is an enjoyable experience thanks to the enormous talents of an enormous cast and a sprawling story that, while it produces feelings of anger, also gives us a tinge of jealousy at the decadence and wealth on display.
Leonardo DiCaprio is fantastic as Belfort.  His portrayal is unlike anything I’ve ever seen him in.  His emersion into the role is at times scary as you wonder if DiCaprio isn’t maybe a little like this despicable character in the darker recesses of his personality.  DiCaprio as Belfort is both conniving and a charmer.  He’s a deviant and a family man.  He’s a drug addict and a titan of Wall Street.  Playing all these aspects of Belfort and playing them convincingly shows just what a great performance DiCaprio is giving.  You both love him and hate him.  Jonah Hill is very creepy as Donnie Azoff.  He’s wearing prosthetic teeth that are blazingly white.  Azoff has an aggressive style in dealing with people.  In his first meeting with Belfort, he approaches Jordan cold at a diner while he’s eating lunch and begins asking him very personal questions about how much money he makes.  It’s the kind of encounter that, happening to anyone else, would lead to a “leave me alone” instead of lots of information.  Hill plays Azoff as a madman hiding just beneath the surface.  There’s always something odd about Azoff in every scene like he’s about to explode and do something violent or inappropriate, making the character far more interesting than he otherwise might be.  Hill has become a surprisingly good actor, capable of taking on more than just the awkward sidekick or stoner buddy.  His performance has earned him his second Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor.  Unfortunately, he’s nominated the same year at Jared Leto for “Dallas Buyers Club” who seems to be a shoe-in for the Oscar.  Still, I believe Jonah Hill will eventually win one of these golden statuettes for his acting.  The whole cast is fantastic with no weak links in the chain.
The story has come under fire as it is claimed it doesn’t show enough punishment for the actions taken by Belfort and the others.  In real life, Belfort only served 22 months in a Federal minimum security prison, less than what’s shown in the film, and he’s currently in negotiations with the government over the $110-million in restitution he was ordered to pay as he’s been slow to turn over as much cash as he’s required.  Instead of being angry at the film, people should be angry at the government for seeming to let this thief off lightly.  With a running time of three hours, “The Wolf of Wall Street” is a sprawling epic that doesn’t mind spending large amounts of time showing us some ugliness in the life of Belfort.  One scene shows Belfort punching his wife in the stomach as they argued over the end of their marriage and the custody of their kids.  This scene plays out over a fairly brief period of time but feels much longer as the anger and violence plays out.  It’s a startlingly unblinking look into a life of great excess and great collapse.  It is often funny, often painful and never dull.
“The Wolf of Wall Street” is rated R for graphic nudity, drug use, language throughout, some violence and strong sexual content.  Topless and nude women are frequently seen; many times involved in sexual activity that is varying degrees of graphic.  The film shows several sex scenes, none are romantic and all involve a great deal of nudity.  There is also a gay sex scene that is brief.  Cocaine, Quaaludes, crack and other drugs are shown being used openly and frequently.  The violence is limited.  One scene shows a man punched in the nose, causing profuse bleeding, and held over the balcony railing of a high-rise apartment.  There are a few other minor instances of violence.  Foul language is continuous and may have set a record for a film using the “F-bomb” the most times.  I’m not joking.  Look it up on Wikipedia.
While at times funny and at times sad, “The Wolf of Wall Street” can best be summed up as a cautionary tale about greed, lust and excess.  It could also be used as a warning about cults as Belfort, who uses motivational speeches to fire up his sellers, is as much a cult leader as Jim Jones, Manson or Stalin.  There are risks anytime any of us puts our complete faith in one person to guide us and take over our decisions.  Belfort injured many of his investors and those who followed him down a path of getting rich at any cost.  Sadly, many of the business leaders of today seem to have not learned the lessons the film teaches.
“The Wolf of Wall Street” gets five guitars out of five.
This week, three new films are aching to have you pay them some attention.  Pay attention to the list below and vote for the next movie I review.
The Invisible Woman—Nelly (Felicity Jones), a happily-married mother and schoolteacher, is haunted by her past. Her memories, provoked by remorse and guilt, take us back in time to follow the story of her relationship with Charles Dickens (Ralph Fiennes) with whom she discovered an exciting but fragile complicity.
Labor Day—On a back-to-school shopping trip, Henry and his mother encounter Frank Chambers, a man both intimidating and clearly in need of help, who convinces them to take him into their home and later is revealed to be an escaped convict. The events of this long Labor Day weekend will shape them for the rest of their lives.
That Awkward Moment—Three best friends find themselves where we’ve all been– at that confusing "moment" in every dating relationship when you have to decide "So…where is this going?"
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film of his choice currently in theatres.
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.
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