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Martin Scorcese's Wolf of Wall Street is a sustained cinematic four hours of drug-charged depravity coupled with uber-masculine unsatiated greed. Perhaps in reaction to the elaborate glorification of Wall Street by Hollywood in the past, Martin Scorcese depicts the culture of some of New York's financiers as one of debauchery and moral decadence at every turn. Perhaps, too, Scorcese read an article in Rolling Stone which quoted a former Senate investigator who told the reporter, "Everything's screwed up, and nobody goes to jail." The reporter writes,
This is the mantra of the financial-crisis era, one that saw virtually every major bank and financial company on Wall Street embroiled in obscene criminal scandals that impoverished millions and collectively destroyed hundreds of billions, in fact, trillions of dollars of the world's wealth — and nobody went to jail.
Imitative of such financial companies, Stratton Oakmont, Jordan Belfort's company, becomes embroiled in criminality. At first, Belfort begins in an established firm at a low level job in an honest manner. However, after he loses his position following Black Friday, Belfort goes to work selling penny stocks at a call center in Long Island. Because of his aggressive salesmanship, he earns the company a fortune, but leaves to launch his own company with his neighbor, Donnie Azoff. There they launch a "pump and dump scam" that they cloak with respectability by giving it the respectable name, Stratton Oakmont.
Based upon the memoirs of Jordan Belfort, a "vulpine salesman" who learns no moral lessons, concedes nothing, and changes not, Belfort is engaged in a frenetic debauch of the acquisition of wealth by any means as he and his co-workers and later, employees, exploit the vulnerability and ignorance of others. After becoming unethical in his business dealings, Belfort dumps his scrupulous wife and marries Naomi Lapaglia only to continue his debauchery and drugs at work. In order to hide his ill-gotten fortune, Belfort opens a Swiss bank account under the name of Naomi's aunt. When she suddenly dies while the Belforts are vacationing, a storm nearly capsizes Belfort's yacht as he frantically tries to reach Monaco so he can reach Switzerland in time to sign for the money. When the plane that rescues him and the others on the yacht is destroyed by a seagull flying into it, Belfort perceives this as a sign from God and decides to get sober. But, because he does not resign from his company as his father has advised him, Belfort is arrested. Then, he makes a deal whereby he is wired to gather evidence from others, but Belfort sneaks his friend Donnie a note. Unfortunately, for both of them, a FBI agent intercepts the note and he is sentenced for breaching his contract. Shortly thereafter, the FBI raids and shuts down Stratton Oakmont. Although they are sentenced--Belfort only receives three years in a federal prison despite his breach of contract with the FBI--they do not suffer a fate equivalent to the mobsters of Scorcese's GoodFellas, thus underscoring the observations recorded in Rolling Stone.
The Wolf of Wall Street is critically, albeit rather too graphically, realistic in its appraisal of the conduct of a man driven solely by his desires, a man who desires everything, and once he seems to have it, he wants what is even better. As Belfort appears amoral and unreasonably avaricious, he is not alone in his desires within the Wall Street climate as demonstrated at the beginning with Matthew McConaughey. But, lest his cupidity become tedious in this film, or somewhat alluring to others, Scorcese injects black comedy with the use of "human darts" for one office party and Belfort's taking of Quaaludes that leads to his smashing his Lamborghini and later slurring, gurgling, and monosyllablc mumblings in a jet as he attempts speech while en route with associates.
While The Wolf of Wall Street may not be at the level of some of Scorcese's films, it reflects his uncompromising realism and telling of inconvenient truths. Then, too, Leonardo diCaprio "raises his game" at some points in the movie, such as the scene with the FBI aboard his yacht as he and the agent play a sophisticated game of cat and mouse with verbally-coded banter.
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