The Wolf Of Wall Street has so much gratuitous sex in it I’m almost tempted to not write a review but instead write an indictment of it using The Miller Test. You get dancing hookers with marching bands, restroom sex, orgies on flying planes, forced sex, and one particularly charming shot of a lit candle sticking out of Leonardo DiCaprio’s butt. Sorry, if you think that counts as a spoiler, but, really, you need to know what you are getting into.
In between the sex scenes, there’s a story arc about Jordan Belfort’s humble start as a broker on Wall Street and being corrupted by some really awful people into learning how to convince people to buy stocks over the phone. He’s taught not to care about clients but to care about bringing in commissions. He learns well and pretty soon he’s running his own firm and perfecting many varied ways to use and abuse people and separate them from their money. And it’s all morbidly fascinating because of two aspects of the plot.
The first aspect of the plot that saves the movie is that you simply can’t believe how awful a person Belfort is and how awful all his cronies are. There’s one particular scene where he and his cronies are boarding an international flight and they are so drunk they can’t get in their seats and the women flight attendants are trying to get them to sit down and are as diplomatically as possible ignoring all the grabbing and kissing they from the drunkards. And it’s just awful. You feel so sorry for the flight attendants and you simply can’t believe how awful these people are. It’s one of those things where you can’t tear your eyes away from it even though you don’t want to watch it.
The second aspect of the plot that saves the movie, and what I think the whole movie is about, is you can’t believe how much Belfort got away with. You learn pretty early on that he’s being investigated by the SEC and the FBI. Part of the anticipation in the movie is that you expect his empire to come tumbling down at any moment. But time and again, he gets away with it. And when the law finally catches up with him, well, let’s just say it’s not exactly a triumph of good over evil, decency over immorality.
In the end, I think the point is that Belfort may have gotten justice, but not what he deserved.
Director Martin Scorsese tried to turn the story into an indictment of Wall Street in general, but I think he fails on this point. We see what awful people Belfort and his gang of hooligans are. But they are awful people. We don’t see the system itself as being bad.
Which brings me to my big complaint about the movie. The SEC and the FBI aren’t after Belfort because he has an appetite for expensive and kinky hookers. Nor are they after him because of his hefty appetite for every recreational drug there is. They are after him because he commits fraud on a massive scale. And this is barely shown in the movie. We never see the effects of Belfort’s operations on the small investors who lost a total of $110 million in his fraudulent schemes. There are a couple of head nods to it, but it’s never explored in the movie.
It’s a three hour movie. Scorsese could have dropped one of the orgy scenes and squeezed in a scene or two about the lives Belfort’s team ruined.
If you need to be convinced that there are awful people in the world, without scruples and morals, you might want to see this movie. But if you already know that, I’m not sure this movie is worth three hours of your life.