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Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street: Should You See This Movie?

Several worlds have been upset—or at least stimulated into frantic conversation—following the release of Martin Scorsese’s film, The Wolf of Wall Street.  The title character in the film, penny stock con artist Jordan Belfort, is no nice guy. Have Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio, who produced and starred in the movie, played right into Belfort’s hands by putting him front and center as the next TV reality-show star and possibly glorifying his drug abuse?

In case you’re living on Planet X and you haven’t heard, DiCaprio plays the title role of Belfort, who freely admits he lived in a world where it was valium for breakfast, marijuana for lunch, and Quaaludes for dinner. He claims he changed his life after 22 months in jail, but he hasn’t benefited from the kinds of insights he would gain from treatment in an inpatient drug rehabilitation center.

Belfort spent most of the 1990s convincing anyone with an extra dime to buy shares in penny stocks, most of which were either worthless or fake. Penny stocks, for the uninitiated, include those that cost less than five bucks per share, and their value is then wildly manipulated by brokers who themselves buy large quantities of the stocks in order to pump up the price and then sell them to hapless victims. The brokers then sell their shares—hence the term pump and dump—causing the investors to lose money. The con men then move on to other schemes.

In the movie’s beginning, DiCaprio as Belfort wonders, isn’t it a good thing if everybody can keep money in their pockets? His mentor tells him that this is not good because happy investors sit where they are, and the goal is to keep their money constantly recycling through one stock after another—because that’s how brokers get fees.

The mentor also teaches Belfort that stock brokers work best on the edge of a constant endorphin flow stimulated by sex and drugs—although the mentor, played by Matthew McConaughey in a brief but noteworthy performance, puts it a good bit more crudely.

A recent letter to the LA Times from the daughter of one of Belfort’s real-life colleagues takes DiCaprio and Scorsese to task for playing into Belfort’s hands by glorifying his misdeeds, bringing extra publicity to the book Belfort published which was the basis for the movie, and making the life seem so glam glam glam until Daddy takes the T-bird away. Nobody can possibly understand what she and her family went through when her father was arrested, she says, and tips from waitressing weren’t enough to put food on the table.

However, did the movie makers really commit such a grievous act by putting the book onto the silver screen? Arrests and poverty are what happen to families of people who live high and fall hard. And the daughter also uses her “open letter” to plug the memoir that she’s writing. So it seems that everybody has an angle here.

In watching an interview of Scorsese, DiCaprio, film writer Terry Winters, and costar Jonah Hill on The Hollywood Reporter, you’ll see DiCaprio say, “After reading…how candid and honest Jordan Belfort was about his undertakings – I never read an account of anything more embarrassing in my life. [He was] a modern day Caligula…gone awry in the 80s and 90s.” Winter says it’s impossible to believe how giddily Belfort wrote about himself and others in this book in his “greedy indulgent ride as a crooked banker burning thousands of investors.”

Belfort, as claimed in the letter in the LA Times, still has much restitution to complete. One can only hope that the feds will be on guard to snatch every penny of profits from the book, the movie, and from his current gig as a motivational speaker as payment toward that still-owed restitution.

So goes the price of the high life—especially if it’s lived on any combination of drugs. Perhaps Belfort should offer to share some of his motivational wisdom free of charge during group therapy at inpatient drug rehabilitation centers nationwide, but charity probably doesn’t run in his veins.  If you’re going to spend your money to see this movie, be sure to watch The Hollywood Reporter video as well. You be the judge. 

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