Sunday, 29 December 2013

Film Review: "The Wolf of Wall Street" (2013).

“My name is Jordan Belfort. I'm a former member of the middle class raised by two accountants in a tiny apartment in Bayside, Queens. The year I turned 26, as the head of my own brokerage firm, I made $49 million, which really pissed me off because it was three shy of a million a week.” This and more is what you’re going to get when watching The Wolf of Wall Street. This biographically satirical black comedy film directed by Martin Scorsese, based on Jordan Belfort's memoir of the same name. The screenplay was written by Terence Winter. Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, and tells his story from his rise to a wealthy New York stockbroker living the high life to his fall involving crime on Wall Street, corruption (such as stock manipulation and namely the practice of "Pump and dump” in the corporate banking world) and his refusal to cooperate with the federal government.

Jordan Belfort is an American author and motivational speaker, who was convicted of fraud crimes related to stock market manipulation and running a penny stock boiler room for which he spent 22 months in prison. Belfort was born in the Bronx. He is the son of Leah and Max Belfort, who were accountants. In the 1990s, he founded brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont which functioned as a boiler room marketing penny stocks, where he defrauded investors with fraudulent stock sales. During his years as a stock swindler, Belfort developed a hard-partying lifestyle, which included a serious drug addiction (Quaaludes). Stratton Oakmont employed over 1000 stock brokers and was involved in stock issues totaling more than $1 billion, including an equity raising for footwear company Steve Madden Ltd. The notoriety of the firm, which was targeted by law enforcement officials in the late 1990s, inspired the 2000 film Boiler Room. Belfort was indicted in 1998 for securities fraud and money laundering. After cooperating with the FBI, he served 22 months in federal prison for a pump and dump scheme, which resulted in investor losses of approximately $200 million. Belfort was ordered to pay back $110.4 million that he swindled from stock buyers. In prison he met Tommy Chong, who encouraged Belfort to write down his stories and subsequently publish them. They remained friends after their release from prison. Reportedly sober since 1998, Belfort then wrote two memoirs, The Wolf of Wall Street and Catching the Wolf of Wall Street, which have been published in approximately 40 countries and translated into 18 languages.

According to federal prosecutors, Belfort has failed to live up to the restitution requirement of his 2003 sentencing agreement. The agreement requires him to pay 50% of his income towards restitution to the 1,513 clients he defrauded. Of the $11.6 million that has been recovered by Belfort's victims, $10.4 million of the total is the result of the sale of forfeited properties. The sentencing agreement mandates a total of $110 million in restitution. In October 2013, federal prosecutors filed a complaint that Belfort, who had income of $1,767,209 from the publication of his two books and the sale of the movie rights, plus an additional $24,000 from motivational speaking since 2007, paid restitution of only $243,000 over the past four years. The government is currently not holding Belfort in default of his payments in order to keep negotiations open, but it is unclear when the full amount of the mandated restitution will be repaid. As of 2013, Belfort was residing in Manhattan Beach, CA, and was engaged. Recently, he gave a seminar at Auckland, New Zealand's Langham Hotel in 2012.

In 2007, Leonardo DiCaprio won a bidding war against Brad Pitt for the rights to Jordan Belfort's memoir The Wolf of Wall Street. During pre-production, Scorsese worked on the film's script prior to working on Shutter Island (2010). He describes having "wasted five months of [his] life" without getting a greenlight on production dates by the studio Warner Bros. In 2010, Warner Bros. had offered Ridley Scott to direct the film, with Leonardo DiCaprio playing the male lead. Warner Bros eventually dumped the project. Years down the line (after Warner Bros) financiers Red Granite gave an ultimatum for the film to have "no limits or censor of anything". In 2012, a green light was given by the independent company Red Granite Pictures. Scorsese came back on board knowing there were no limits to the content he would produce; as it stands, the movie has a hard R rating. In the film, most of the real-life characters' names originally in Belfort's memoir have been changed. Donnie Azoff is based on Danny Porush; the FBI Agent known as Patrick Denham is the stand-in for real-life Gregory Coleman; and lawyer Manny Riskin is based on Ira Lee Sorkin. Belfort's first wife, Denise Lombardo, is re-named Teresa Petrillo, while second wife Nadine Caridi became on-screen Naomi Lapaglia. In contrast, Mark Hanna's name remains the same as the LF Rothschild stockbroker who, like Belfort, was convicted of fraud and served time in prison.

The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Belfort, along with Jonah Hill and Matthew McConaughey, among others. DiCaprio gave his finest Scorsese role since The Departed (2007). His performance unleashed a bizarre mixture of financial genius and party, sex, alcohol and drug induced madness. From the very beginning you root for the character even though he and his associates are complete "wankers." The entire cast including Hill, McConaughey, Robbie, Chandler, Reiner, Bernthal, Favreau, Dujardin, Byrne, Choi, Lumley and Jonze gave their finest and most outrageous performances in their careers for this film.

Hard-hitting, stylish, visceral, outrageously funny and hard-edged, The Wolf of Wall Street touches a nerve in the human psyche that is still debated in newspapers across the world today. The film offers an accurate portrayal of businessmen now. It is shaping up to be the best mainstream Hollywood satirical meditation on America since Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove (1964). To conclude, the film is a satirical classic – and arguably the high point of Martin Scorsese's career since Goodfellas (1990).

Simon says The Wolf of Wall Street receives:

1 comment:

  1. Good review Simon. It is three-hours, but it never bored me. Not for a single second.