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Why The Wolf of Wall Street has failed…miserably

Jordan Belfort told Piers Morgan last week that the film based on his memoir, Marty Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, was a ‘cautionary tale’.  Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays the perma-tanned fraudster, has agreed, stating that, ‘we’re not condoning this behaviour…we’re indicting it.’ 

Sorry fellas, but the only things you’ve warned us about in this film are the perils of being caught. And the importance of taking prescription drugs still within their use-by date.

When Leo nearly crashes a helicopter into his front lawn we cheer; when he betrays his loving wife we’re over the moon; when he cons innocent people out of their hard earned money we can’t help but gleefully share in his selfish victory.

You don’t leave a screening of Wolf instilled with a new found recognition of the dangers of greed and the corrupt economic system. You just want to snort a line off someone’s tits and sleep on a bed of money.

This isn’t a film which focuses on one man’s astonishing rise in the face of adversity; the actual rise takes a little over twenty minutes within the film. The majority of the narrative is one of unbridled excess once he has successfully beaten the system: lengthy scenes dripping with prostitutes, cocaine and garish suits (and not a single negative consequence in sight.)

Now I wouldn’t want you to think that this meant I didn’t enjoy it, or that I’m some sort of Daily Mail prude who claims to be personally insulted by such displays of hedonism. I fucking loved every minute of it. It is, for all intents and purposes, a brilliantly entertaining piece of cinema. It is certainly not, however, a cautionary tale. You don’t leave a screening of Wolf instilled with a new found recognition of the dangers of greed and the corrupt economic system. You just want to snort a line off someone’s tits and sleep on a bed of money.

Don’t believe me? Just take a look at Twitter’s reaction to Jordan Belfort’s lifestyle:

‘@JamesCoyne6: All day I’ve been thinking of ways to become the next Jordan Belfort #thewolf’

‘@ryanbassil: After that three hour masterclass from Jordan Belfort I think I’m ready to make a bajillion dollars and blow coke up a strippers butthole’

‘@KyeSones1: New thought process = now what would Jordan Belfort do?’

‘@MartyWalsh777: ‘I wanna be Jordan Belfort when I grow up, Legend.’

‘@FarrarTheGing: Think I’ll write my role model speech about Jordan Belfort. What a legend.’

Do these sound like the words of an audience who have been treated to a ‘cautionary tale’? Or have Scorsese and DiCaprio inadvertently created another generation of young men and women eager to emulate the most depraved aspects of eighties culture? I’d put my money (if I had any) on the latter.

Milton’s Satan spends eternity in hell, Shakespeare’s Lear is destroyed and Charles Foster Kane dies alone, but Jordan Belfort, he’s doing just fine.

The film fails in its frankly pathetic attempts to portray Belfort’s failures. When he violently attacks his wife it’s excused as a drug induced moment of madness; when he is finally put in prison it appears that even there he is able to use his still considerable wealth to cheat the system. The end of the film shows Belfort not destitute and alone, as is de reigeur for proper exponents of cautionary tales of excess and greed, but working his way back up to exactly where he’s come from as a motivational speaker.

Milton’s Satan spends eternity in hell, Shakespeare’s Lear is destroyed and Charles Foster Kane dies alone, but Jordan Belfort, he’s doing just fine.

Alex Mawby

Do you agree with Alex’s take on The Wolf of Wall Street? Let us know via Facebook and Twitter, or leave a comment.

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21 Comments on this post.
  • Andy
    9 February 2014 at 14:08
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    The movie is trying to show you exactly how these people were thinking and what they were experiencing. They were thinking about money, money, money & also how they pretty much got away with it. They weren’t thinking about the people that fell victim to their actions. It is showing you everything from their perspective. We all know how horrible their actions were and consequences of them but this movie is about how this man was living.

    This BBC video sums it up very well: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-25702930

    • John Heaney
      12 February 2014 at 15:12
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      Dude, if you wanna snort some coke after watching this movie I don’t think it’s their fault. You should probably get those issues under control.

  • Anonymous
    10 February 2014 at 00:28
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    They have to say it’s cautionary, in reality it’s just fun. Unadulterated fun, which given the source material may have been less than sensitive. Do I give a shit, no.

  • Yaiyan Clapholtz
    10 February 2014 at 09:52
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    Yo dawg, I aint too agreeing wit ur article. Personally, me beliefs that you is just jelous of Big JB, and want his lyfe! Da film is gud ite? so u can just stop chatting balonee, and injoy it, ite? Nah but 4 serious, obvs shows de bad side.

    • Rob
      12 February 2014 at 10:04
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      lol, yo dawg you’re thick as shit

      • Yaiyan Clapholtz
        17 February 2014 at 10:10
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        Hello Robert, nice to make your acquaintance. Go and fuck yourself.

      • Alx Moya
        17 February 2014 at 10:12
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        Mr Robert, U R an fagit.

  • Alx Moya
    10 February 2014 at 09:58
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    Ur Comments are offensive to the followers of Jbel and u aint a real man unless u love dis movy. It talks about de bestest of ttimes u can havas A MAN SO STFU <3 FROM cANADIA

  • Gordon Gekko
    10 February 2014 at 14:16
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    You’re just jealous because Goldman Sachs rejected you

  • Travelling Blogger
    10 February 2014 at 16:18
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    Completely agree, the film was amazing, and i enjoyed it from start to finish.. but i disagree when you say it failed as it may not have set out with the intended purpose to show right from wrong.

  • tim
    10 February 2014 at 17:13
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    I didn’t know movies were supposed to provide some sort of moral compass for the world. Its a fucking movie…

  • Chad
    10 February 2014 at 21:15
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    It didn’t fail as a cautionary tale because it’s not about Jordan Belfort but about Wall street and how we have a system in place that exists that allows greedy bastards to do what they want and get away with it. It fools you into thinking it’s the traditional plot of a guy doing wrong who ends up ruining his life but “surprise” he’s still living it up without any significant punishment. That’s why I love this movie.

  • Dino Hollywood
    10 February 2014 at 23:03
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    The Wolf Of Wall Street For Dummies by Dino Hollywood

    “The most fundamental mistake you can make with any piece of fiction is to confuse the content with the subject. The content is what is in a movie. The subject is what the movie is about. Word counters are as offended by a Martin Scorsese picture as by a brainless violent action picture, because they see the same elements in both. But the brainless picture is simply a form of exhibitionism, in which the director is showing you disgusting things on the screen. And the Scorsese picture might be an attempt to deal seriously with guilt and sin, with evil and the possibility of redemption. If you cannot tell one from the other, then you owe it to yourself to learn; life is short, and no fun if you spend it disowning your own intelligence.” – Roger Ebert

    This far into the evolution of the cinematic form, I shouldn’t have to step forward to spell things out in this manner but a random sampling of the critical and public reaction to a recent feature film release reveals that yet again, some of us have been flummoxed by a genius that extends too beyond our collective scope to grasp. This concerns the reception of an artfully antagonistic work of allegorical avarice and the once absent chapter in Martin Scorsese’s vast, historical, American criminal chronology which begins in the late 1840’s with Gangs Of New York, continues through the 1920’s with Boardwalk Empire, and up until now had been annotated for expansion from the late 1980’s to mid-1990’s somewhere between Henry Hill ordering egg noodles and ketchup and Sam “Ace” Rothstein bemoaning the pyramids obstructing his pining view of a paradise lost. The picture in question is entitled The Wolf Of Wall Street and only if you have seen it should you feel free to pass go as I do not wish the ensuing tirade to taint anyone’s initial reaction or reading of what I consider a visual masterwork.

    The Wolf Of Wall Street is not an indictment of Jordan Belfort or our financial crisis but of us, and this, I contend, is what turns our protective and critical instincts against it. The film does not moralize and due to its refusal to judge its subject, many reviewers have expressed feeling cheated. Now I was not around for the initial critical reception of Raging Bull, but archival notices indicating any such qualms with that masterpiece’s resistance to deny Jake LaMotta his humanity are either fewer and father between or have since been shamed into retraction. It is only when Scorsese’s fun house mirror reflects our own impotence as the impetus propelling us to flail in the wake of bullshitters who project boatloads of self-confidence that the lap-dogs begin paddling back toward their laptops to type out an “SOS”. “How dare a filmmaker be so irresponsible as to give us a front row seat to this capitalistic gang-fuck but fail to execute the proper sentence on its perpetrators so we can leave the theater feeling satisfied or superior?” seems to be the general consensus. Nevertheless, to lash out now is laughable when the film’s core conceit is confronting us with the same passive part of our nature that calls us to line up in solidarity for the vicarious thrills of a Hollywood blockbuster but stand down or scoff when it comes to something like the Occupy movement.

    Somewhere along the way it has become acceptable for the rabid uninformed to bark without shame, while film criticism sidesteps its responsibility to what has actually made it to screen. The grammar of a given film is seldom if ever contemplated, freeing up space for more plot synopsis, vague conjecture and exclamation points!!! The conversation has devolved to such an extent, that even those with no basic understanding of the criteria with which we process a great film, feel province to pile shame on its creators. The Wolf Of Wall Street’s charged and timely subject matter seems to have imbued even its subject’s real life victims and their supporters with an indefensible sense that our prospective pity is credential enough for them to comment on art. Thus, a smattering of “scathing” open letters have been written c/o Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio since the opening of perhaps their boldest and most accomplished collaboration to date. To nobody’s surprise, not one of these misguided missives makes a single salient point concerning what has been committed to celluloid. This is what occurs when liberal sensibilities are confused for a discipline or a craft and when film is confused with a court of law.

    Mr. Scorsese is a master of the moving image whose work speaks in eloquent volumes and entirely for itself but clearly in a language many filmgoers including “critics” no longer comprehend. The language I refer to is cinema and Scorsese’s vocabulary sagely draws no distinction between protagonist and antagonist. In his seemingly endless canon of classics there is no traditional “hero” or “villain” to speak of. Outside forces only exist as symbolic extensions of the inner inequities we all fear facing. In this respect, The Wolf Of Wall Street is exemplary of its heritage and Jordan Belfort’s very introduction wholly epitomizes it. The distance he so impetuously puts between himself and us “the little people” by making sure we know that he’s the film’s protagonist and not the Dwarf he’s just tossed, says everything. But it is two precision-calibrated freeze frames that do the real heavy lifting. The amount of op-ed real estate devoted to whether literal Dwarf-tossing took place in the Stratton Oakmont office is embarrassing. If visual metaphor is that taxing, Terrence Winter’s exactingly crass metonymy allows Jordan to interpret for us as he openly scoffs at an FBI agent’s unassuming assertion with his revealing retort, “Me, the little-man!?” If you are indeed visually illiterate, I will hereby address you directly as I further dissect a sampling of the optical allegory implicit in the picture and how it symbolically relates to the protagonist/antagonist dichotomy.

    For a film focusing on one man’s financial ascent, which uses stairs metaphorically, I wonder if you found it at all curious, that the man is never shown climbing upward; he is only shown descending or having already arrived. In following Jordan Belfort’s “climb” to greater financial heights if you didn’t intellectually register the number of times he physically moved down a tier or simply manifested in a higher tax bracket, you felt it. Sorry, but you didn’t have a choice. It’s not a plot point or a line of dialogue it’s a visual motif. Your brain connects subliminal dots whether you can articulate it or not. In tracing Jordan’s momentum, the single notable exception utilizes a spiral staircase shown from a disorienting, Daliesque perspective-tunnel so that as he moves up his downward trajectory remains in tact. All of this culminates in the coup de grâce of sight gags where in a Quaalude-induced semi-coma, we assume Jordan’s POV of the slightest flight of downward steps. To both him and us, the low, curbed angle processes a staircase so abnormally elongated it appears to ascend.

    The idea of lowering oneself to new material heights is not only confined to a stairs but to crashing helicopters, planes and eventually boats. You may recall the private copter “landing” on the estate to reveal our drooling “hero”, but with the help of a judicious cut, he’s dapper and back on top (of a staircase), maintaining the sale of his own myth. But the crucial thing that the odd chronology has spared us witness is the next beat where Jordan actually works to gain control over his faculties and fails miserably, falling in the pool. Not only does this suggest that there is always further to fall but that the character’s real struggle is purposely being hidden from our view. Redacted. This is the same approach Mr. Scorsese took in his 1964 student short It’s Not Just You, Murray!, another deliriously sad essay of denial that I defy detractors to see as “glorification”. In fact, exactly like Jordan, Murray starts out in total control of his picture’s direction going so far as to pan the camera upwards with own hand but the more forcefully he sells us, the more he is undermined by his own rapidly unraveling psychology made manifest through loaded imagery.

    Have you forgotten that the first image in the film is the icon of a lion and that the last image is of lambs? Neither animal is literal as the first is unleashed on the unnatural office environment via composite by Madison Ave. ad-makers and the last is an audience not unlike us; “sheep” secluded into being sold, jaws agape, looking to the king of a capitalistic jungle-gym for insight into how to steal our classmate’s lunch money. And while his roar remains, the king in question has long since (in the eyes of those of us paying attention) been stripped of his power to project anything save for his own superiority complex. Can you call to mind the opening reel and the ease with which our “protagonist” changes the color of the very sports car that our “antagonist” ends up demolishing? At first blush, Mr. Belfort’s word is as good as gold, all he need do is say it and it becomes so. Now what about in the aftermath of his rescue, when an airplane explodes mid-air and the wet and shivering “wolf” wonders if we’ve even seen it. In the end, the onus is on us to confirm or deny this once confident man’s version of events; we can embrace, reject or even repress the very existence of his worldview. But at least we now understand the cost of doing so.

    The Wolf Of Wall Street follows the struggle of a repressed conscience, a theme Scorsese has connected with water in the past, most rigorously in both Cape Fear and Shutter Island. In each of those films, water holds the power to haunt, refracting a guilt-ridden protagonist’s psyche into a karmic monster. In Raging Bull, water is symbolically associated with Jake LaMotta’s second wife Vickie, a young blonde who’s angelic allure and intangible power to heal is revealed as her husband’s shallow objectification, obscuring her true nature as a living, breathing woman. In Jordan Belfort’s case, both uses of the water metaphor are married, haunting him by foiling his grandest plans and mocking his inability to have a lasting or realistic relationship with anyone of the opposite sex. This connection extends intrinsically and lives through performance in how comically disproportionate DiCaprio distends Jordan’s reaction to a glass of water when wielded as a weapon by his second wife Naomi, another unknowable and archetypically angelic blonde. Much in the same way Jordan handles the women in his life, he continually attempts to master water by throwing money at it (figuratively as well as literally) but only ends up sinking his yacht and by extension its namesake, his wife. And here the link is made inextricable.

    I wonder if you thought it accidental that when Jordan and the Swiss banker first meet, they are identically framed from mirrored angles with the banker’s back to an office aquarium and Jordan’s back to the ocean? Did you figure the fixed aquatic framing of Jordan eyeing the banker’s exotic fish adoringly for random b-roll? What about his shit-eating admiration for Donnie’s swallowing of the gold fish? What about his exasperation at his colleagues for their lack of familiarity with Moby Dick? What about his crystalline point of view of the cannonball pool splash that drapes Naomi like some kind of mermaid when first they meet or the distance his flat, wakeless pool intimates when he reveals his ankle bracelet to Donnie as his wife paces, dry-docked in the background? Is it by coincidence that the Swiss banker ends up with an interchangeable, objectified blonde who is shown giving herself over to him, not only freely but in bed, the very same setting in which we first met Jordan’s wife and last saw her submit to being taken against her will? Does it even need to be mentioned that Naomi’s bedroom introduction occurs in a God’s eye view, a shot Scorsese practically has a patent on and is almost always associated with retribution?

    Disabuse yourselves of any notion of the haphazard. None of this is coincidence. These decisions are not arbitrary. They are the considered associations of a deeper mind and heart than your own, meditating in close collaboration with an unparalleled phalanx of consummate craftsmen. And yes, even the appearance of Steve Urkel in a hot air balloon is no accident. Never mind that the scene in question concerns an average working man’s fear of heights. Never mind that Urkel says, “One pull for up. Two for down!” suggesting that when you’re full of hot air it takes less effort to rise than fall. All you really need to know is that the show is called “Family Matters”.

    I suggest that the next time you’re in search of an After-School Special with Scorsese-style trimmings but none of the associated psychological heft or symbolic anthropology, watch American Hustle.

    -Dino Hollywood

  • Sean
    11 February 2014 at 05:53
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    Totally agree. For $100 million they did a fantastic job, the acting was spot on and the plot was filled with twists and turns that held my attention all throughout the movie. Many critics of this movie have equated it to porn. In my opinion it is not only equatable to porn, but it represents what happens before and after the sex as something people should desire with every bone in their body. As for the consequences… Jordan Belfort is doing just fine.

  • Ben Sona
    11 February 2014 at 20:00
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    The only thing that failed miserably is Alex’s article and review.

    This shows your not intelligent enough to draw the main point of the film. Of course it’s fun to have money and party a little. The film not only points the finger at Belfort but us the consumer. We keep enabling people like Belfort to keep selling to us since we are addicted to learning the fast track to wealth.

    I don’t want to watch a movie where I am preached to or taken by the hand like I’m a little child.

  • Robert Crisp
    12 February 2014 at 10:20
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    This review is spot on. Has this film inspired me to get rich as I possibly can, yes! Am I then going to blow it all up my nose? No! (hopefully).

    They can pretend that the movie is about condemning behavior like that of Jordan Belfort’s but really it’s just about making a fun movie that they’re going to enjoy making and that the public are going to enjoy watching. The reason they can’t say this is because douche bags would get all “uppity” and say things like, “you can’t glamorize this type of life style, it’ll corrupt our youth.. blaa blaa, bollocks bollocks”

    This is, in my opinion, one of scorsese’s finest piece of work, loved it!

    p.s. I love that part, “You don’t leave a screening of Wolf instilled with a new found recognition of the dangers of greed and the corrupt economic system. You just want to snort a line off someone’s tits and sleep on a bed of money.”

  • Pablo
    12 February 2014 at 11:40
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    Yep, I agree with you. Some great moments, but afterwards I had a hollow feeling from it. Some insight into what was actually happening while these guys were blowing coke up prostitutes asses would have given more perspective and to me made it a more interesting film- to capture, even for a moment, the side of the story which is them lying and cheating money out of people, sometimes their life’s savings. Perhaps replace just one or two moments of the gratuitous hedonism in the film, which I think got boring at point, though some moments were great. But, reading the above comments is enough to see that people really want a hero to mindlessly follow, and Leonardo’s Belfort was an awe inspiring character to be sure- just the way we like our heroes to be- likeable, gutsy, wise yet crazy and risk taking- you’re just not a man if you don’t aspire to be like Jordan Belfort. Anyway boys, good luck with becoming rich like JB, cause you probably won’t

  • Alex
    12 February 2014 at 11:57
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    Quality film

  • Nik
    12 February 2014 at 23:45
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    Why Alex Mawby’s review has failed miserably:

    1) The purpose of the film wasn’t to provide a lesson of morality.

    2) The very title: “WOLF of Wall Street” certainly doesn’t suggest a loving and generous philanthropist so what the hell would you expect to see when you watch it?

    3) “Sorry fellas, but the only things you’ve warned us about in this film are the perils of being caught. And the importance of taking prescription drugs still within their use-by date.”

    Err, no. The main message being conveyed is that too much money (or money in very large amounts) can make you feel invincible. So regardless of what he does and how the audience reacts, the fundamental point still stands that he felt he could do anything he pleased because of his innumerable riches.

    There are many more points I’d like to add but I can’t be arsed. Your “review” is lame.

  • Marissa
    13 February 2014 at 03:08
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    Total overrated trash

  • Kifornes
    13 February 2014 at 03:09
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    The problem is while it is meant to show the cautionary tale of excess, most people are just rathinling in it.

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