Whether it’s a heart-warming family flick like Hugo or a violent story about the mafia (think Casino or Goodfellas), Martin Scorsese usually delivers a film which promises to be gripping and entertaining.
His latest smash hit ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, a three-hour odyssey into the more shocking elements of boom –time Wall Street, certainly ticked those boxes.
It is a highly controversial film, mainly because of the graphic way the story of the financial industry during the late 80s and 90s in all its glory – and wild excess is being told.
The ‘Wolf’ of the title refers to Jordan Belfort, a former stockbroker and convicted white-collar criminal who started his career at L.F Rothschild, a New York-based company which ultimately folded in the 1987 stock market crash.
He then founded his own company choosing a respectable sounding name in a bid to compete with established Wall Street firms.
The Wolf of Wall Street, in depicting Belfort’s rise and ultimate fall as CEO of a company made rich by so called pump and dump schemes, has all the ingredients to ensure big drama: heaps of cash, mountains of drugs (literally), countless of parties, orgies, a yacht, a trophy wife and a near death experience which ultimately leads to an epiphany to turn his life around.
It’s an intriguing watch, a funny watch but not for the faint hearted or the easily disturbed and in some parts of the world it’s been banned for its debauchery. Most notably so in Kenya, where street vendors have been thrown in jail for selling the film.
That aside, leading man Leonardo DiCaprio, who won a bidding war against Hollywood heavyweight Brad Pitt to secure the film rights, delivers a spellbinding and superb performance.
He portrays a young and ambitious man rather than a ruthless, narcissistic drug addict who left countless people out of pocket.
Despite his many vices, which he for the most part carries with pride, Belfort comes across as loyal, strangely loveable and in his more lucid moments a guy who seems to who care about his family, friends and employees. He’s the personification of the American Dream, a simple guy from a humble background who gets it all through hard work and even after losing it all, seemingly lands on his feet.
The story told is one-sided one of course. The stories of the investors, the victims who have been cheated out of their life savings, aren’t touched on in the slightest – but go the other way and you get a completely different film with, one suspects, a lot fewer laughs.
Belfort, who subsequently penned his memoirs and became a motivational speaker after his 22 month stint in a minimum security penitentiary, only paid off a fraction of the millions he owes to his victims.
American prosecutors now believe that some of the funds can be recovered from the profits he made from the movie. Other sources say this is unlikely, while the man himself says he hasn’t got a dime.
Whatever the case, The Wolf of Wall Street is Scorsese’s most profitable movie, at three hours long, it’s a tale about excesses, nominated for a string of prestigious awards and winning several others including a Golden Globe for best actor.
Understandably in this current economic climate, there is little compassion for bankers and brokers but the Wolf – the ultimate money movie – was embraced at the box office.
In short, The Wolf of Wall Street is neither heart-warming nor violent, but gripping and entertaining it certainly is.