Review By Shirley Hawkins
The tale centers on Jason Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), an ambitious young man who rises from humble beginnings in Queens, N. Y.
Belfort eagerly sets his sites on climbing the ladder to success and riches—in other words, capturing the American dream. With this goal in mind, he becomes a broker and storms Wall Street at the tender age of 22.
He joins a well-heeled stock brokerage firm (where he is instructed to make 500 calls a day)! and quickly gets educated by a savvy older mentor (an over-the-top, chest-beating, coke-snorting Matthew McConaughey) who basically advises Belfort that the way to get rich is to swindle the clients into buying next-to-worthless stocks for fat commissions.
Less than a week after he starts his job at the investment firm, the market plummets by 580 points on what is called “Black Monday”. Months later, the firm is forced to close its doors. A desperate and jobless Belfort joins a struggling brokerage firm in Long Island that sells penny stocks. Voila! Belfort has found his calling. A truly gifted and aggressive salesman, Belfort quickly rises through the ranks due to his skillful wheeling and dealing.
Along the way, he bumps into salesman Donnie Azoff (an exuberant Jonah Hill in a riveting performance) at a restaurant who is impressed with Belfort’s swanky car. “I’ve seen that car around a lot. What do you do?” he asks Belfort.
“I trade stocks.”
“How much did you make last month?”
“Seventy thousand. Technically, seventy-two.”
“I made two thousand. You show me a check for seventy thousand and I’ll work for you.”
Belfort shows Azoff a check. Azoff quickly calls his boss.
“I quit. I’m going into stocks,” Azoff announces.
Azoff and Belfort develop a bromance and a partnership that rivals the Lone Ranger and Tonto! Quicker than you can say Warren Buffet, Azoff pulls Belfort into the restaurant restroom and introduces him to the fine art of smoking crack!
Let’s just say that this twosome not only bond over the experience of stock peddling, but quickly develop a fondness for snorting narcotics and popping pills–Quaaludes, Demerol, Xanax, cocaine and morphine!
The ambitious Belfort wants more—much more. He opens his own investment firm and christens it with the blue chip sounding name of Stratton Oakmont—a ploy to make it sound like it hung up its shingle at the same time that the Mayflower hit American shores. Belfort rents out an abandoned auto body shop and Azoff recruits a number of his former schoolmates and associates to peddle stocks to clients.
But Belfort also provides plenty of fun for his phone dialing drones! (I have to say, he’s pretty creative!) Belfort throws a midget throwing party (yes, with real midgets—how he got away with that is beyond me), hires a marching band and even ladies of the evening!
Pretty soon, Belfort is making more money than he can handle. He holds a poolside party for his employees to celebrate his good fortune where he meets the fetching Naomi LaPaglia (Margot Robbie). Quicker than you can say jack sprat, Belfort dumps his wife Teresa, asks for a divorce and moves Naomi into his pad.
After throwing a two million dollar wedding, he gifts Naomi with a Long Island mansion and a 175 ft. yacht.
But eighteen months later, Naomi, now the mother of two, is fed up! Belfort’s predilection for drugs, hookers, gambling and his shady business practices have proved to be too much! She asks Belfort for a divorce.
In the meantime, Belfort is being investigated by the FBI who pay him a visit on his yacht. (It’s ironic that Belfort proudly displays the American flag on his yacht even though it was bought with money swindled from clients.)
After he attempts to bribe FBI agent Patrick Denham, (Kyle Chandler), Denham makes it his mission to bring Belfort down by keeping him under surveillance.
With the feds closing in, Belfort is desperate to hide his mountain of money. He hooks up with an amoral banker in Switzerland to launder his money and hires the family of one of his associates to transport the cash.
In Belfort’s world, money (and the promise of it) buys everything—from the sprawling mansions, hedonistic Vegas parties and beautiful trophy wives. But the lure of Belford’s money also unearths the pathetic, too—the female employee who shaves her head in front of Belford’s staff so that Belfort will write her a check for double D breasts, to the lackeys who employ high pressure sales tactics to acquire fat checks and the “good life.”
“Are you behind on your credit card bills? Does your girlfriend think you’re a loser? Pick up that phone and dial!” Belfort yells at his employees.
Belfort’s consumption of drugs continues to escalate. I kept waiting for him to keel over with a massive seizure! On his way to Switzerland to check on his money, Belfort goes berserk on the plane after downing a bunch of Quaaludes and has to be strapped into his seat!
Back stateside, there is a hilarious scene where Belfort downs a high grade pharmaceutical that kicks in with a wallop. Unable to string sentences together while his body seemingly turns to rubber, Belfort attempts an excruciatingly slow crawl to his car that is like watching a modern-day Buster Keaton comedy.
There’s a lot more to this rags-to-riches little tale. I won’t tell you how Belfort finally gets caught, but let’s just say that The Wolf of Wall Street chronicles how one man’s greed and ambition (and love of narcotics) takes over his life and how his manic world comes crashing down.
DiCaprio displays a rakish charm that makes Belfort’s rags-to-riches tale bigger-than-life. Kudos also to Matthew McConaughey in a lively and humorous cameo performance, and to Jonah Hill, who plays Dicaprio’s lively sidekick.
The Wolf of Wall Street, directed by Martin Scorsese and released by Paramount Pictures, is a cautionary tale of a smart, brilliant man who unfortunately goes down in flames. (But check out Scorsese’s earlier work, Goodfellas with Ray Liotta—in my opinion, a slightly better grade of beleaguered anti-hero.)