Wolf of Wall Street–Gangster Movie Gone Mad

 

the_wolf_of_wall_street_posterFor Martin Scorsese, Jordan Belfort’s story was a chance to go places even he has never gone before as a filmmaker – into the most comic extremes of real-life human behavior.

“Jordan’s story falls squarely into American fascination with the rise and the fall — the gangster tradition,” says the director. Yet Jordan took the gangster tradition and turned it inside out. Rather than hiding from the law, he flaunted his illegal wealth in every way imaginable – and some ways that weren’t imaginable — practically begging for the comeuppance that ultimately toppled his mini-empire.

Scorsese also saw an opportunity to take a highly entertaining trip around the cycle of financial ecstasy, madness and disaster that seems to play out over and over in the American economy.

“As someone who enjoys history, I’ve been quite stunned and amazed that the same things keep happening over and over,” the director comments. “You have periods of financial boom with a kind of euphoria when it seems like everybody’s going to get rich and everything’s gonna be great — and then it all falls apart, and there’s a realization that only a few were getting richer at the expense of others. It happened in the Gilded Age in the late 19th Century. It happened in 1929. It happened in 1987, which is when our film takes place. It happened at the turn of this century when the dot.com bubble burst and it happened again in 2008. And, it could be happening again soon.”

Belfort furthermore fit in amidst a certain kind of character Scorsese has been drawn to throughout his career – men struck by ambition in the most alluringly flawed, human way, men who succeed on their own terms yet can’t escape a moral morass.

the_wolf_of_wall_street_4_dicaprio“Jordan’s someone who led a life that wasn’t exemplary, that was pretty ignoble in a way,” says Scorsese. “Not because he wanted to harm anybody per se but because this is what he learned from the world around him. So that’s something that I’ve always been attracted to and is interesting to me – people like Jordan or Jake LaMotta or Tommy, Joe Pesci’s character in ‘Goodfellas.’ People try to distance themselves from these kinds of characters: it’s someone else; he’s not like me. But in actuality I feel it’s not someone else. It is us. It’s you and me and if we had been born under different circumstances we maybe would have wound up making the same mistakes and choices and doing exactly the same things. I’m interested in acknowledging that part of these characters which is in our common humanity and we have to deal with it.”

Scorsese saw all of this brought to the fore in Terence Winter’s screenplay. Winters is best known for his Emmy-winning work on “The Sopranos” and for the hit Prohibition-era series

the_wolf_of_wall_street_1_dicaprio_hill“Boardwalk Empire,” which Scorsese executive produces, but he also worked at Merrill Lynch for in the 1980s. So he was able to twine together an intimate knowledge of the financial world with a penchant for writing about the lure and perils of the high life. He began his research by going directly to the source, meeting several times with Belfort.

“Jordan was unbelievably forthcoming,” Winter recalls. “I mean the book doesn’t hold anything back, but in person it’s even more so. He went into great detail about the drug use and the orgies and the relationships and really everything. He was an open book. From there, I interviewed his parents, his ex-wife, the FBI agents who brought him down, the people who worked for him and the also some of the people he scammed.”

Soon, Winter had a multi-dimensional portrait of Belfort in his head, “The genius, if you will, of Jordan is that he is extremely seductive – he’s funny and smart and he also can be charmingly self-deprecating. And I think that’s also true of the people who went to work for him. You know, these were people so charming that for a moment you forget they were really robbing everyone else.”

the_wolf_of_wall_street_5_hillHe continues: “For me what was interesting is that it makes you say, ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’ Jordan started out a regular kid in Queens. His parents were accountants – and he all wanted was to make good, to be successful like we all do, and then he just fell down a tremendous rabbit hole. He had these natural gifts as a salesman, but then he got corrupted by the system until he was feeding off of it. I saw it as the story of a fresh-faced kid who turned into a financial monster.”

That monster soon had an insatiable, out-sized craving for every toy and pleasure known to humankind. “This is not just a story about the rise and fall of a guy who stole money on Wall Street. It’s also a story of a guy whose life became unbelievably full of insane events that were generated with by his obsession with sex and drugs. He was basically addicted to everything a human being can become addicted to,” notes Winter. “He just wanted more, more, more. More drugs. More women. The biggest yacht. Homes all over the place. And it got wildly out of control. Part of the fun was trying to full create this roller-coaster ride of insanity.”

the_wolf_of_wall_street_2_dicaprioWinter sees this accounting of insanity as particularly intriguing right now, in the wake of a global financial crisis that exposed widespread corruption – and altered the public view of Wall Street forever. “Here we are in 2013, five years after the incredible collapse of our economy, and so many of the people who were responsible remain in incredibly important positions,” Winter points out. “So we still have to wonder if we’ve yet learned anything.”

DiCaprio was exhilarated by Winter’s writing. “Terry wrote a screenplay that encapsulated all the most insane moments of Jordan’s life – and he stylistically wrote it for Martin Scorsese. He also

gave me some of the most wonderful dialogue I’ve ever had the opportunity to say as an actor. We’re incredibly thankful that he did the adaptation because he painted so many nuances into all these characters and brought bold color into it in a way I don’t think anyone else could.”