Wolf of Wall Street (2013): Lush, Shallow Life, Defined by Intoxication

the_wolf_of_wall_street_posterDirector Martin Scorsese has excavated the terrain of the American crime drama from multiple angles–but with The Wolf Of Wall Street he goes straight to the edge with a tale from the outrageous and darkly comic realm of our most contemporary variety of criminal extortion: high finance.

On one level, the movie depicts a trip into intoxication, in all its forms, intoxication by greed, adrenaline, sex, drugs and the churning of all too easy money.

Based on a true story, The Wolf of Wall Street follows the outlandish rise and non-stop pleasure-hunting descent of Jordan Belfort (multiple Oscar nominee Leonardo DiCaprio), the New York stockbroker who, along with his merry band of brokers, makes a gargantuan fortune by defrauding investors out of millions.

The film, which is directed by Martin Scorsese from a screenplay by Terence Winter based on the book by Jordan Belfort. follows Belfort’s wild ride as he transforms from a righteous young Wall Street newcomer to a thoroughly corrupted stock-pumper and IPO cowboy. Having quickly amassed an absurd fortune, Jordan pumps it back into an endless array of aphrodisiacs: women, Quaaludes, coke, cars, his supermodel wife and a legendary life of aspiration and acquisition without limits. But even as Belfort’s company, Stratton Oakmont, soars sky-high into extremes of hedonistic gratification, the SEC and the FBI are zeroing in on his empire of excess.eorgia Kacandes.

LUSH LIFE OF A WALL STREET OUTLAW

“This story was like a modern-day Caligula to me,” says Leonardo DiCaprio, the film’s lead actor and a producer who fought for years to make “The Wolf of Wall Street.” DiCaprio can’t help but compare Jordan Belfort to history’s most debauched and insanely indulgent Roman Emperor – but he was awestruck to see Rome’s boundless lust for the illicit transferred to a New York brokerage full of salesmen from Queens.

It was the setting amidst New York financial outlaws out to have the time of their lives while blinding themselves to the consequences that drew him in. “In the late 80s and early 90s Wall Street was so incredibly unregulated, it was like the wild, wild West,” DiCaprio notes. “And Jordan Belfort was one of those wolves who took advantage of the loopholes to make a gigantic fortune. To me, his story seemed to embody that specific time when our financial institutions went completely awry.”

DiCaprio was also drawn to Belfort’s unconstrained honesty about the heights of ecstasy he found within his grasp – money flowing so freely people were having carnal relations on stacks of it until the totally exorbitant became the ordinary. “What was so fascinating was Jordan’s absolute candidness about his every crazy endeavor. He held nothing back. He pulled no punches. He was unapologetic about his lust for wealth and his mad consumption – and I felt that was the basis for a fascinating character. And the fact that he ultimately had to pay the price made for a great story.”

Before Belfort was charged with securities fraud and money laundering, he was leading his life at the most baroque, orgiastic levels anyone could imagine – flying own personal helicopter, driving 6 luxury cars, sailing a 167-foot yacht formerly owned by Coco Chanel, racking up $700,000 hotel and hooker bills and a feeding a 20-quaalude a day habit cut with cocaine and morphine.

Then, Belfort lost it all. With plenty of time on his hands to reflect, he chronicled his journey in a tell-all book — revealing step by startling step how he started a penny-stock brokerage in a garage, developed it into the ultimate “pump and dump” shop (where fast-talking brokers pump up stocks to inflated prices, then dump the over-valued shares, bilking their investors), then drove his life into the ground with the sheer extent of his appetites. Written with an irreverent New York sensibility, critics praised the book’s rocketing pace and comic touch, with some seeing it as the consummate tale of modern money madness gripping America.

Belfort may not have been in the mob per se, but many saw his story as that of a financial gangster. While his clients suffered disastrous losses, he and his friends made out like bandits – and they publically reveled in their loot, causing Forbes Magazine to call Belfort “a kind of Robin Hood who steals from the rich and gives to himself.”

“He’s a modern kind of gangster,” says Joey McFarland of Red Granite Pictures, who joined Scorsese, DiCaprio, Riza Aziz and Emma Kaskoff as the producing team. “He’s not like the violent gangsters we know from other films but the kind of gangster who finds a way on Wall Street to manipulate the system, fuel his own greed and take advantage of people. In the same way that ‘Goodfellas’ was the story of a neighborhood gang, I think this is similar. But this neighborhood happens to be that of Wall Street. And the people these guys shake down aren’t local shopkeepers but millions of regular people in the privacy of their own homes.”

That, says McFarland, made Martin Scorsese, whose intense, bold films have been woven into the tapestry of film history, a peerless match with the material. He was especially thrilled to watch the director take a gleefully no-limits approach that ratcheted up the story’s ink-black comedy.

“The way Marty made the film, it is so funny,” he says. “You have the sex, the drugs and the money, you have this tumultuous journey, and yet there’s constant humor mixed with many emotions. The style Marty brings to the movie makes it an event of epic proportions. Whenever you get Marty and Leo together it’s an event — but with this edgy, racy material, it’s something special.”

Adds producer Emma Tillinger Koskoff, who is President of Production for Sikelia Productions, working alongside Scorsese on all aspects of his film and television projects: “When Marty and I first read the script we knew instantly that we wanted to make this film. In scope, this film is similar to CASINO — the story is told in that classic Scorsese staccato pacing. I knew Marty’s fearless and uncompromising direction would make him ideal for this subject matter.”

DiCaprio had felt the same way. “From the start, I couldn’t stop thinking of Marty for this material,” he explains. “He’s able to bring a reality, a life and a sense of comedy to the darkness in this story, and that’s something very, very few filmmakers can accomplish. I always remember Marty telling me that ‘Goodfellas’ was a dark comedy – so that’s why I approached him originally.”

Still, everyone involved was taken aback by the sheer dauntlessness of Scorsese’s leap into unexpurgated depravity. Sums up screenwriter Terence Winter: “When I saw the movie for the first time, it was jaw dropping. I mean it was exactly what I had written; yet I couldn’t believe the level of insanity and intensity and hilarity. Just the level to which all of these actors, Leo particularly, committed was astounding. Marty obviously has that gift where he can take something off of a page and turn it into a visual storytelling masterpiece. He created a tsunami of craziness.”

Credits

Paramount Pictures and Red Granite Pictures present an Appian Way and Sikelia Production,f an Emjag Production of a Martin Scorsese film, “The Wolf Of Wall Street,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau, and Jean Dujardin. The producers are Scorsese, DiCaprio, Riza Aziz, Joey McFarland and Emma Koskoff. The executive producers are Alexandra Milchan, Rick Yorn, Irwin Winkler, Danny Dimbort, Joel Gotler and G