Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

wolfJordan Belfort is a thief.

Belfort was the co-founder of Stratton Oakmont, the brokerage house headquartered in Long Island that cold called, finagled, lied and “sold” their way to notorious heights in the late 80s and 90s. His hilarious and unbelievable antics are catalogued in the new film The Wolf of Wall Street, based on Belfort’s own book of the same title.

His schemes, including selling shares in non-existent companies (“pump & dump”) and facilitating IPOs of companies he secretly owned, made him and his crew untold millions. Well not untold, Martin Scorcese just made a three hour paean to the millions.

First the good; everything in the movie. From Scorsese’s crisp and surprisingly playful direction, to Terence Winter’s brilliant screenplay, to the cast, the movie is brilliant. At three hours, it flies by like Belfort’s sleek Lamborghini, only occasionally clipping parked cars along the way.
DiCaprio is a movie star in a classic sense. He’s the Henry Fonda of our time; boyish good looks, and a fieriness that can make him equally compelling as a good guy or bad. It makes him perfect for roles such as this. He’s captivating as Belfort, as he was playing Howard Hughes and J. Edgar Hoover in previous biopics.

The supporting cast, including Jonah Hill, Jon Bernthal, Rob Reiner, Kyle Chandler, Matthew McConaughey, Jean Dujardin, Spike Jonze and Joanna Lumley, is perfection. Scorsese and his immensely talented colleagues make amazing things happen, and that shouldn’t be news to anyone.

Now the bad; Jordan Belfort is a thief!

He spent 22 months in Federal Prison for his crimes, but the movie makes clear it was somewhat less than “hard time,” being more akin to the fabled country club white collar prisons that Office Space made us believe were not real.

All in all, Belfort is believed to have stolen about $250 million from various investors. That of course doesn’t factor in millions thrown down the drain in court costs, investigation of his crimes and other fees that land on the taxpayer. And of course none of this factors in the damage he caused to our financial system, helping to shake the foundations it previously stood on.

So why after a three-hour movie shining a blistering light on his crimes, do Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese prop up his public speaking business (which nets him upwards of $30,000 per speech, but has yet to reimburse even a tenth of the amount he owes in reimbursement to his victims, a sum that itself is less than half of what he stole)? They claim they only are telling the story, not glorifying it (after they got raked over the coals by one of Belfort’s real life partner’s daughters in an open letter published in LA Weekly). But Dicaprio appears in a real life infomercial for Belfort, extolling the values taught by Belfort in his speeches, and crowning him a true example of redemption.

It’s painfully evident to anyone with eyes, ears and an even moderately calibrated bull%#@! detector, that this is nonsense.

It’s a great movie, but Belfort profiting off it (he claims to have donated the actual payday, but his business will obviously soar from association with the popular film) is stomach turning.

Not enough to miss it, though.

The Wolf of Wall Street is playing at the Carmike 12 in Corvallis.

by Ygal Kaufman