The Wolf of Wall Street – Film Review


Once again we find Martin Scorsese taking serious inspiration from his lifelong muse, New York. So much has happened in this Metropolis and continues to happen, and the material just never seems to run out. He returns to the underworld but not gangsters. This time he delves beneath the underworld; Wall Street, Mean Streets, what’s the difference? Perhaps less violence on Wall Street or is it just another category of violence? I must admit when I saw the trailer for this film over the summer I was quite surprised to see that it was a Martin Scorsese picture. The film is large format all around. The running time is three hours and it’s laced with foul language, morbid use of drugs and alcohol, is degrading to women, and props money up on the highest pedestal at any cost to anyone.

It’s Goodfellas meets Glengarry Glen Ross, meets Wall Street. Process that for a minute.

I approached this film with mixed feelings, as it deals with financial crimes and unethical goings on by stockbrokers and so called investment managers. A lot of people lost their retirement believing the frauds over the last few years. So why make this film? Scorsese has said he made it out of “frustration and a kind of anger.” In a recent Los Angeles Times interview Scorsese states.

When I was growing up, I don’t remember being told that America was created so that everyone could get rich. I remember being told it was about opportunity and the pursuit of happiness. Not happiness itself, but the pursuit. In the past 35 years the value has become rich at all costs.

Jordan Belfort was hooked on becoming a Master of the Universe on his first day on Wall Street. He was seduced by a greed that would permeate every aspect of his personal and professional life. Based on a real character and the book by Belfort, screenwriter Terence Winter (Boardwalk Empire) hits the accelerator in the first scene and never lets up.

Leo DiCaprio plays Belfort and let’s animal persona off the leash. All he wants is more, and not just of money. His performance makes us laugh, gasp, shake our head and even cheer. But we are never afraid. Nor do we feel sorry for him even though he loses much more than he ever gained.

Black Monday was Belfort’s first day  as a bonafide stockbroker having passed his Series 7 exam. It was October 19, 1987 and the worldwide stock markets crashed along with the firm that gave him his first chance. This first lesson was not lost on Belfort.

He cobbled together a typical Scorsese band of characters who would eventually pledge their undying allegiance and yearn to unlock his secrets and live like Belfort. The group successfully traded Penny stocks from pink sheets to the middle class. He made money, but Belfort had higher aspirations. He created Stratton Oakmont, Inc. selected a lion as the firm’s symbol and wrote this mission statement; Stability, Integrity, Pride. They began targeting the top 1% of the population, sold them blue chips to get them comfortable, then make 50% commission on the crap. They made more money than they knew what to do with. It was brilliant, in a tragic sort of way.

From the screenplay The Wolf of Wall Street.

Script 1

Script 2

It’s one continuous party. The lines between the office and strip clubs or beach houses are blurred so badly no one knows if they are working or partying. Sex, drugs, drinking. Nothing was too much or off limits. Eventually Belfort meets Naomi (Margot Robbie) and his first marriage dissolves like a quaalude in bourbon. The wedding in Vegas cost Belfort $2 million and he didn’t bat an eye. From there things just get even more amped up as they take the women’s shoemaker, Steve Madden public in a very unorthodox and illegal manner.

Scorsese turns the camera directly on DiCaprio who addresses the audience first person. It’s fitting. We need someone to remind us we are not looking at a dream, but real life and the people who are acting it out know it’s wrong but can no longer tell right from wrong. Only rich from poor.

As the FBI closes in Belfort gets a bit more serious. He hatches a plan to move cash to a Swiss bank and turns his attention to blocking the investigation. No matter how much the heat gets turned up, nothing can stop Belfort and his lieutenant, Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) from getting messed up. Donnie comes across a long lost bottle of Lemmon 714 quaalude pills give to him by a pharmacist client. The Lemmon 714 is the mother the Quaaludes. The scene that follows their taking of several of these potent pills is hysterical. I have not laughed that hard in the theatre since Three Weddings and a Funeral.

We need to be careful not to forget that activities of Stratton Oakmont are not victimless crimes. We don’t see the victims, and in fact almost never hear the voices on the other end of the telephones. But they are real and the damage done is serious and life-destroying in some instances. Belfort crashed so many things. A helicopter, expensive car, 170 foot yacht and countless lives. He never gets a scratch and always falls up, landing on his feet.


DiCaprio also played Gatsby in Baz Luhrman’s interpretation of Fitzgerald’s novel released earlier this year. Both Gatsby and Belfort came from humble, poor beginnings. Both had aspirations and through a quirk of fate were able to gainfully apply their individual gifts to achieve great wealth. Gatsby built his empire out of the love for Daisy. Belfort accumulated his fortune out of the love for greed. Gatsby had an unfulfilled heart and Nick Carraway as his compass of good. Belfort lacked a heart and had Donnie Azoff as his enabler. Someone always willing to open the next door to excess.

Americans spend less that 20 minutes per year really studying their finances. I’m not talking bills, but real finances. College funds, retirement, real estate. Don’t be taken in. Do more work on your own financial state. Scorsese reminds us that finance underpins so much of our daily life and it can vanish in an instant.

Photo Credits:  Paramount Pictures

Download the The Wolf of Wall Street script legally here.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps – Film Review

It has been said that finance is the art of passing money from person to person until it vanishes. That seems a bit harsh. But looking back over the events of the last two years, one is tempted to think this might actually be true. A third certainty taking it’s place along side the other two; death and taxes.

There have been some interesting documentaries made about financial meltdowns; The Smartest Guys in the Room detailing the Enron crisis comes to mind. But Hollywood did not move quickly to explore the nearly cataclysmic events of the fall of 2008 when the economic system teetered on the edge of collapse. Eventually 20th Century Fox called Oliver Stone and asked him if he would be interested in making a sequel to his 1987 film, Wall Street. I’m so glad they did. The result is sparkling.

Shia LaBeouf as Jake Moore and Carey Mulligan as Winnie Gekko

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is unexpectedly fun. When a director decides to make a sequel of his own film he has access to a vast amount of material from the first picture. Characters, story, dialogue and of course the zeitgeist of the original moment. The challenge facing filmmakers of sequels is to carefully select what to incorporate. To make intelligent choices. I believe this is Mr. Stone’s first redux of one of his works. Some believe that doing a sequel is selling out. “Just for the money.” To those I simply recite the following, The Godfather and The Godfather Part II. Enough said.

There’s just enough of the past folded into Money Never Sleeps to remind us of what it was like in the ’80’s. It also takes an open eyes look at a financial ecosystem that found itself starring directly into the abyss. Mr. Stone teases out the nuances from the original script and carefully embeds them into the hearts and minds of the characters in new one. Some things look familiar, some are new. But what is most impressive is how he packs this picture with symbolism, spins it up and then back down, coming to rest on a seemingly happy ending that has an uncomfortable premonitory feeling.

Picture opens with Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas of course) being released from prison with a bag of useless personal items in one hand and one of those brick mobile phones in the other. He waits outside the prison for someone to escort him back into the silver lining he left behind. No one is there. In prison Gordon wrote a book and begins his new life lecturing about the evils of greed and how during the eight years of his incarceration it has accelerated and gone global, and no one can stop the inevitable. Is this guy Mayan?

An up and coming Wall Street trader named Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf) attends one of Gordon’s lectures and catches up with him on the steps of the lecture hall. Jake is engaged to Gekko’s estranged daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan), which wins him 10 minutes with the master (former master). There’s a deal struck. “I’ll give you a photo of Winnie when she was young and you get me back on her good side.” Old times, Good times.

Oliver Stone directs Michael Douglas

Jake has been taken under the wing of Louis Zabel (Frank Langella) long time investment titan (read: Lehman Brothers). Zabel gives Jake a bonus check of $1.4MM for his loyal service to the firm. Jake looks on Zabel as his mentor. We all know what happens next. Zabel goes down like a house of cards in what seems like hours. Other firms, one in particular, bets heavily against it. The point of no return has been crossed.

The film is a feast for the ears and eyes. Stone shows us stunning visuals of Manhattan at it’s best. Large, gliding vistas bathed in warm light. All the buildings seem as if they have just been sandblasted. We never glimpse the seedy side. When you have money you never have to. He uses the cityscape as a one would a bar chart in a PowerPoint slide, superimposing the collapsing stock market atop the urban architecture. Money Never Sleeps is somewhat unconventional for a dramatic set piece by dabbling in documentary and experimental styles. The visuals are nicely complimented by the unique vocal stylings of David Byrne and the haunting music of Brian Eno.

The new Gekko in town is Bretton James (Josh Brolin). He is just as ruthless as Gordon, but times are more sophisticated now, so he is infinitely more dangerous. James recruits Jake (the Bud Fox of the day) to help them build out their energy portfolio. But Jake has a much stronger emotional pull in Winnie than Bud did with his father or Darien (Daryl Hannah). The story between the two lovers takes some expected turns to propel the story through a flurry of scenes that remind us that Gekko is still at large.

Jake has a pet project. A mad professor who is exploring new ways to generate energy and has a constant need for cash. Winnie is the anti-Wall Street person and works for a non-profit with a blog. Jake’s zeal to mend the relationship with Winnie and Gordon, and fund his project backfires. Instead it drives father and daughter further apart and seems to dash all hopes of saving his project. His actions do in fact fund Gordon’s come back.

Ground Zero: A constant reminder

Stone sprinkles symbolism throughout the film. Bubbles being blown by children in Central Park rise to the clouds. Jake walks on marble floors of new buildings that ring the 9/11 site, with the twin tower footprints looming beyond the shimmering plate glass windows. The towers are one of the first images we see in the original Wall Street. The original pillars of the financial world are gone and new shocking memories of storied financial houses failing are about to be created, again.

Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography is as rich as the characters he lights on the screen. The script by Allan Loeb, Stephen Schiff, Stanley Weiser and Stone takes us from the parties and fund raisers into the tough boardroom discussions, including that late Sunday night “too big to fail” meeting with the government at the head of the table. The acting performances are crisp. I highly recommend this picture. Vsit the very basic official web site here.

Images courtesy of 20th Century Fox