A Look Back: Wolf of Wall Street

“What goes around comes around,” is a consoling saying we may repeat to ourselves when we wind up in a position where we are totally powerless. Even if we can’t do anything about whatever is driving us crazy at the moment, we can console ourselves with the hope of karma. If it’s a Hollywood movie, we are almost guaranteed that there will some kind of blowback for the misbehaving characters – whether or not they are the protagonists, too. Of course, if the film is based on a real-life story – like the Martin Scorsese-directed 2013 “Wolf of Wall Street,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, you can know in advance what the ending will be, but there’s always the chance that it will be tweaked to be more satisfying to the audience. In “Wolf,” since it’s based on the memoir of the main character, Jordan Belfort, the ending isn’t an enigma – though you may wonder – since it’s a long film – how much the protagonist and his merry band can get away with before it all comes crashing down.

After Black Monday in 1987 puts a serious wrench in his Wall Street career – barely before he gets into work the first day, Leo rebounds by finding a boiler room style operation in Long Island and working his way up there. Soon enough (at least in movie time), he decides to enlist his friend (Jonah Hill) to start his own firm. Jonah, despite having a questionable sense of humor among other foibles, gets on board, and they start recruiting. If you wish to convince potential investors that you’re respectable – and not a gaggle of guys who only dimly have a clue what they’re doing – it helps to have a respectable-sounding name, and Leo nails that by naming his new company “Stratton Oakmont.” The name just reeks of dignity, professionalism and good judgment – all qualities that are in precious short supply, but with the help of his mentor (Matthew McConaughey) who appears in an iconic restaurant scene, Leo persists and finds success. He even hires his dad (Rob Reiner) who feels occasionally obliged to lecture his son on some of his less appealing high jinx, although not with much effect.

Success in this form involves lots of sex, drugs and drinking, a roller-skating chimp, and getting involved with shady characters who carry guns and offer money smuggling tips. Eventually, Leo upgrades his love interest from Christine Ebersole to Margot Robie, puts his life at risk in multiple ways (some involving a storm in a boat and a risky plane ride) and winds up on the radar of a plucky FBI agent (Kyle Chandler), who persists and eventually secures justice – even if Leo’s ultimate destination is what one critic referred to as “tennis jail.”

“Wolf of Wall Street,” was nominated for a flood of Academy Awards (none of which it won), though it did receive honors at other competitions. It also has the distinction of being the film with the most f-words – at least 506, perhaps more. Among the bushels of criticism aimed at “Wolf,” was the complaint that none of the main characters seemed very contrite for their misdeeds by the end. However, the director responded by saying that this appeared true of the real life counterparts, so this was nothing but art imitating life. As P.T. Barnum once said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” And perhaps, sadly, there’s a sociopath born then, as well.

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