“The Wolf of Wall Street” sends poignant message of money’s power

Written by Fourth Estate Lifestyle Reporter Andrew Davis

Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese have worked on four films together, the most recent being “Shutter Island.” Even though “Shutter Island” received mixed reviews from critics, the two have joined together once again for their fifth film “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Nominated for almost every major category at the Academy Awards, this three-hour-long tale owes its success to a well-paced story and its satirical messages.

“The Wolf of Wall Street” is based on the life of Jordan Belfort, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, a stockbroker who made millions of dollars by selling penny stocks to clients at inflated prices. The film follows his life from his first day on Wall Street to his downfall.

Films have shown an interest in focusing on the villain before. In fact, sometimes they glamorize them (“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”), redeem them (“The Big Lebowski”), or make monsters of them (“The Godfather”). By focusing on Belfort’s sleazy endeavors in cheating stockholders out of their money, a message within the film begins to form.

“The Wolf of Wall Street” satirizes Belfort and delivers a pointed message: Money changes people for the worst. Before he struck it rich, Belfort was a clean man. He cared for his fiancée and did not drink or do drugs of any kind.

Success built on fraud begins to change him when he learns that, for every penny stock he sells, he earns 50 percent of the money given to the company. He begins to sell awful stocks for high prices so that he can receive half of the money given, making him a millionaire.

As the money piles up, Belfort becomes energized by the power that wealth brings him, which he abuses. Most notably, he becomes a womanizer. Even when he meets Nadine, a woman whom he sees as his soul mate and vows to settle down with, he still sleeps around.

Drugs play a huge role in this film. In one of the first few scenes, Belfort states that he loves drugs of every kind, Quaaludes being his personal favorite. To paraphrase, he takes “Quaaludes like they are M&Ms.”

Martin Scorsese, the director, and Terrence Winter, the screenwriter, suggest that it is success that led Belfort to embrace drugs and womanizing. This is accomplished in the script by focusing on the insanity of the material. It begins with the beginning his career by selling fraudulent stocks.

As he earns money from these illegal actions, his exposure to drugs and sex continue to grow. By the time he has his own building to rake in the money, he is holding crazy parties filled with strippers, Quaaludes, people going wild and underwear-clad marching bands.

With Scorsese and Winter deliberately focusing on the negatives of monetary influence in an exaggerated manner, despite the fact that there are positive influences such as providing for one’s family, they send out a message to the audience that money is a flaw in American society.

To deliver its full meaning, the film needs time to develop. “The Wolf of Wall Street” clocks in at nearly three hours long. While some scenes seemed extraneous because they were not very essential to the plot, the progression of Belfort’s descent into excesses makes for engaging movie-watching.

Even slower-paced scenes work in this film, courtesy of Scorsese’s dark humor. For example, there is a scene where Belfort talks with the owner of a bank branch in Switzerland to hide his money. The conversation is largely financial that will leave many people without MBAs wondering what is going on, but Scorsese keeps the audience’s interest up by allowing them to peek into Belfort’s true thoughts about the transaction.

This is “The Wolf of Wall Street’s” way. Given the complicated financial setting, Scorsese knows that some of the audience will not understand 100 percent of the material, so he leavens the story with comedic lines and dark humor.

This fifth film collaboration between Scorsese and DiCaprio may as well be their best work together. Thanks to a strong script by Terrence Winter, the film has enough in it to keep audiences interested as well as deliver a hard hitting message about what money can do to one’s life. It may not be the root of all evil, but Scorsese makes “The Wolf of Wall Street” show what money can really do.

For those who would like to see “The Wolf of Wall Street,” visit the JC Cinema on March 28 at 9 p.m. or March 29 at 6 p.m.

(Photo by Amy Rose)