January 12, 2014
Notes on ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’
- Briefly, Martin Scorsese’s new movie is about a stockbroker named Jordan Belfort who ran a ‘pump and dump’ scheme during the 90s market boom.
- It is very funny
- It is far too long (>3 hours; you could lose at least an hour and lose nothing. The gay butler scenes, say)
- Leonardo diCaprio is phenomenal
- The story of a man who gains the world but loses his soul and then loses everything else and is condemned to a life of banality seems to mean a lot to Martin Scorsese, because he’s made at least eight different movies based on this premise.
- Two of those movies (Goodfellas, Raging Bull) are two of the best films ever made. Although the subject is the same they’re very different movies. But this is basically a comic version of Goodfellas set on Wall Street.
- So Scorsese is attracted to these amoral outsiders and likes to make films about them. Fine. But for a major American director working in 2013 to make a movie about Wall Street and base it on Jordan Belfort seems, well, lame. The scale of Belfort’s crimes is tiny in Wall Street terms. He was eventually found guilty of securities violations totaling about $200 million dollars. Compare that to two Wall Street scandals of 2013: The LIBOR rate-fixing scandal estimated to cost investors roughly $186 billion dollars and the HSBC drug money laundering scandal involving transfers of around $670 billion.
- As the movie makes clear, Belfort and his associates aren’t really Wall Street guys. They don’t have MBAs or Phds from elite universities. They have no political power and no legal protection. When Belfort gets caught he goes to prison. No one from HSBC or J P Morgan is ever going to prison despite committing crimes on a far larger scale than Belfort’s because they work for companies that – by and large – control the political, judicial and regulatory environments they operate in. They’re above the law.
- Which, if you ask me, is a more interesting subject for a filmmaker.
- Unlike Goodfellas, The Wolf of Wall Street ignores the victims of the lead character’s crimes. His investors are just suckers on the end of the phone. And I guess that’s true to the subject: guys like Belfort don’t spend any time thinking about their victims. Besides, it wouldn’t be that funny to watch scenes about thousands of people having to sell their home, and their business, and having nervous breakdowns and committing suicide because Belfort took all their money and spent it on drugs and hookers. But it does perpetuate the notion that white-collar crimes are victimless crimes.
- The result is a movie about Wall Street that doesn’t deal with any of the epoch-defining problems of Wall Street and an amoral destructive anti-hero who seems to operate in a victim-less environment. I liked it, but it’s awful irreverent. It’s no Goodfellas. It’s not even Casino.
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