Directed by: Martin Scorsese
The real Jordan Belfort is a real-life charlatan and scam artist who worked on Wall Street during the “Pump and Dump” ‘90s who rose from nothing to become über wealthy by defrauding investors in a series of massive securities schemes that involved widespread corruption on Wall Street and in the corporate banking world, including shoe designer Steve Madden. By his own admission he was a world-class drug-addled, whore-mongering, conman who bilked his investors out of millions of dollars while he got wealthy. While the new Scorsese film about Belfort’s life and times tends to glorify the testosterone and drug-fueled high-energy antics of Belfort and his cronies, it, unfortunately, leaves out the numerous victims that got stung in his schemes.
All of which is not to say that the film is not a well-made and faithful to the book version of what apparently actually occurred. The film is frenetically narrated by Belfort (DiCaprio) who knows what he is doing is wrong, but doesn’t seem to actually care. In fact on his first day as a stock broker, Belfort is told by his boss, Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) that the keys to success on Wall Street were masturbation, cocaine and hookers. Unfortunately, the day that Belfort gets his license is Black Monday, the day of a major stock market crash and he is out on the street. However, fortunately for him (and unfortunately for the rest of us), he lands a job with a Long Island brokerage house selling penning stocks — where the per-unit cost is negligible, but his commission is huge.
Soon he is making money hand over fist selling these all but worthless stocks to investors. It is at this time he hooks up with Donnie Azoff (Hill), and they found their own boiler room firm on Long Island (This part of Belfort’s story was the basis for the eponymous 2000 film) where they hire their friends and continue to sell the penny stocks at great success. Eventually the move into the big time taking private companies (in which they are stakeholders) public for huge profits then they dump their own stocks for additional revenues. One of these companies was Steve Madden’s shoes. Madden (Jake Hoffman), a childhood friend of Azoff agreed to the deal, and also made millions on the deal.
The film is, essentially Wall Street on crack-infused steroids, and amped up to 11. These amoral asshats are so pumped up by their own successes that they don’t actually care about whatever damage that they are doing, plus they believe themselves to be untouchable (as witnessed by the arrogant way that they treat the FBI agents who are investigating them and eventually take them down. Still, even in defeat they are unbowed as many of them are still living high on the hog and Belfort himself (who only served 22 months of a 4-year sentence) has only paid back some 12 million of a 110 million fine.
Robert J. Sodaro has been reviewing films for some 30 years. During that time, his movie reviews and articles have appeared in numerous print publications, as well as on the web. Subscribe to receive regular articles and movie reviews.