Saturday, January 4, 2014

Greed Is Never This Good: Review of Wolf of Wall Street

Way back in the 1980s, Hollywood gave us Gordon Gekko, who said "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works."
In 2013, Hollywood gives us Gekko's successor, Jordan Belfort, a man addicted to booze, drugs, and mostkly making money by any means necessary.
The difference between Gekko and Belfort is that Belfort really existed, and lived a life that's close to being depicted in The Wolf of Wall Street.
This movie has been getting praise from critics and movie fans, especially for Leonardo DiCaprio's extreme performance as Belfort. Some, however, have been upset that the movie makes Belfort too much of a hero because it doesn't include stories of the people he hurt.

Well, the story is being told from his perspective. The last thing he'd do is admit guilt over the investors he bilked, but he's more than willing to show the audience how he got his great life, and nearly explain why. Sure, some of us would envy his lifestyle. We'd like to have sex with a hot spouse on a million dollars, or have a yacht and a really big house. He got these things, and paid the price for breaking the rules. You might say Wolf is just like The Great Gatsby, especially for the outrageous antics that happen in Belfort's offices.

The story starts with his early days at Wall Street, and learning from fellow stockbroker Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), including very bad habits. After the Crash of 1987, Belfort starts to trade in penny stocks, where rules hardly exist. Using that, he eventually created Stratton Oakmont with the help of Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) and a few drug dealers. Through a lot of guile and a script, Belfort rose in the financial biz, even organzing the IPO of Steve Madden shoes. This gets the attention of the FBI, especially agent Pat Denham (Kyle Chandler).

While Belfort gets richer, he dives into decadence, especially girls, cocaine and quaaludes. He also meets Naomi (Margot Robbie), a model that soon becomes his wife.

Wolf of Wall Street is an insane and interesting look at one of Wall Street's most notorious stockbrokers, and it is also way over the top. However, some of the specific scenes show DiCaprio as his very best. He was coached by Belfort himself on how to sell junk stock, and motivate his staff at Stratton Oakmont. His scene with Denham at the yacht is also a worthy battle, where both men think they have each other's number. Hill is also great as Azoff, a poor schlub who gathers confidence, and later riches, being with Belfort. He develops quite the attitude. Robbie is also great as Naomi, who turns from model to Long Island housewife but is still smoldering and sizzling.

There's also great performances by Jean Dujardin, who plays a Swiss banker who's willing to hide Belfort's millions, and Joanna Lumley as Naomi's Aunt Emma, who also gets involved.

There are some scenes that are really bizarre, like what happens when Jordan and Donnie take very old quaaludes. You'll never look at a Popeye cartoon about ancient Greece the same way again. Granted, this movie is funny in a disturbing way. Then again, it's supposed to be.

I'd give this movie three stock tickers, mainly because of DiCaprio. It may be too over the top for some, especially in using the f-word and naked women. It came very close to being NC-17, and that may have some hoping there will be an unrated version on DVD by this summer.

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