Wolf of Wall Street captivates with white-knuckle action

by Tom Hague, contributing writer

The concept of greedy and corrupt Wall Street stockbrokers is nothing new to Hollywood films. However, none have been as wickedly entertaining, morally baffling, and wildly fast paced as “The Wolf of Wall Street” directed by Martin Scorsese. Wire to wire this movie was a white-knuckle excursion through the life of Jordan Belford, a self-made stock market tycoon played by Leonardo DiCaprio.

The movie opens by stumbling head first into Jordan’s ostentatious life style with a kaleidoscope of scenes involving helicopters, sprawling estates, call girls, and a variety of drugs. From then on, the film is an unapologetic parade of debauchery that would make Gordan Gecco blush.

Based on Belford’s best-selling novel, the film is a boastful glimpse into the life of a highly functioning sociopath. However, before Belford’s life as a stock mogul, he was a struggling college dropout in New York City with few prospects for the future. Early on in the movie, Belford is depicted as a doe-eyed young man eager to make a living and provide for his wife. After taking a job on Wall Street, Jordan’s boss, played by Matthew McConaughey, introduces him to the cutthroat, and drug fueled world of stock trading. After honing his skills and learning from the best, Jordan is flushed out of Wall Street by the market crash of 1987.

Soon after, Jordan finds another job selling penny-stocks on Long Island. It doesn’t take long for Jordan to exploit the lack of regulation and oversight in the industry, quickly becoming wealthy. Later on, Jordan creates his own firm called Stratton Oakmont with his confederacy of misguided hometown friends including Donnie Azoff, played by Jonah Hill. Through Stratton Oakmont both characters amass incredible wealth using illegal market maneuvers and stock manipulation.

It’s no surprise Scorsese tapped long time film associate Leonardo DiCaprio for the role of Jordon. DiCaprio is undoubtedly in his element, playing a high functioning sociopath to a tee. DiCaprio captivates the audience with a charming, charismatic, savvy, and arrogant performance making it difficult to root for or against.

Elevated to an almost cult-like leader, Jordan persuades dozens of employees to embrace a lifestyle of greed and excess. Jonah Hill’s character, acting as second-in-command, is a highly idiosyncratic. Donnie’s impulsive actions often so push the boundaries of comedy, and often put both characters in incriminating situations.

If nothing else this film challenges the audiences definition of what “success” really looks like. Is Belford deserving of celebration or criticism? Should this movie be taken as an instruction manual or warning sign? Ultimately these are questions for the viewers to debate.

Junior Tom Hague is a contributing writer. His email is thague@fandm.edu.

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