Home » Heroes » 2 Heroes » The Wolf of Wall Street ••1/2

The Wolf of Wall Street ••1/2

MV5BMjIxMjgxNTk0MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjIyOTg2MDE@._V1_SX214_Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie
Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenplay:  Terence Winter
Biography/Comedy/Crime, Rated: R
Running Time: 180 minutes
Release Date: December 25, 2013




(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, looks like we have an encounter with the big, bad wolf. Hope he doesn’t eat Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother.

The Wolf of Wall Street is based on true events – it makes me pine for the 90s.

The Wolf of Wall Street opens with young Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) starting a new job as a stockbroker at an established Wall Street firm. His boss Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) asks him to lunch and tells him that the key to success is to encourage investors to make more and riskier investments. Hanna also tells Belfort that successful brokers drink, drug, and womanize to great excess. Black Monday causes Belfort to lose his job, but his aggressive salesmanship soon earns him a small fortune selling penny stocks.

Belfort doesn’t take long to realize that penny stocks are flying under the radar of the SEC and he starts his own company “Stratton Oakmont.” He hires his marijuana-selling buddies and soon they are making millions of dollars. That’s when Forbes magazine interviews Belfort labeling him “The Wolf of Wall Street.” The article also attracts the attention of the FBI and Belfort begins his descent.

Greg, this movie is all about bloated excess, and we see it in full force on two different levels. On one level there is, of course, the lavish excess shown by Belfort and his staff at Stratton Oakmont. They partake in prodigious bouts of drinking, drugging, and womanizing. The overindulgence of physical pleasure and the trappings of living a corrupt, greedy life are clearly on full display here.

There is also bloated excess in the filming of this movie. Martin Scorsese needed to be reigned in here, big-time. There are far too many scenes of Belfort and Azoff (Jonah Hill) reveling in their inebriation, their toxic injections, their boorish behavior, their prostitutes, and their abuse of women in general. How many times do we need to see frenzied, infantile men snorting cocaine, popping quaaludes, and having random sex? The Wolf of Wall Street is basically Animal House on steroids, an endless orgy of excess in both the characters’ actions and the filmmakers’ ego-feeding editing choices.

I agree with you to a point, Scott. The film clocks in at just 3 hours which was an hour more than the film needed. But Scorsese is a genius and nobody edits Scorsese. I thought it was necessary to show just how over-the-top these young men had gone. They believed they were above the law and above morality. But, yeah, a few of those scenes could easily have been cut.

I thought this was sort of the opposite side of The Great Gatsby (also played by Leonardo Dicaprio). In Gatsby we have a leading man who worked hard to create a lavish lifestyle so that he’d be worthy of the woman of his desire. He apparently has no other woman in his life.

Belfort, on the other hand, creates wealth for the sake of having as much sex and drugs as he wants. His money isn’t there to make him worthy of anything other than living as extreme a lifestyle as he possibly can.

I just didn’t understand the point of this movie, Greg. There are no heroes here, just a couple of jerks who get rich by cheating people. They are neither tragic heroes nor sympathetic figures. They’re merely losers and villains whom we hope will get their comeuppance. Does the story teach us something about the downfall of humanity? I suppose it can serve as a cautionary tale, but like you said, lopping an hour off the three hour running time would have helped make this bloatation much more palatable.

One positive observation I’d like to make is that this movie features an extraordinary performance by Leonardo DiCaprio. This role showcases his impressive range as an actor, thanks to the volatility of the character he plays. I wouldn’t have thought that DiCaprio was capable to handling the character of Belfort, who is a complex and broken man hell-bent on harming others to benefit himself. As much as I disliked this movie, I believe DiCaprio deserves an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

Scott, you’re right when you say there are no heroes here, at least not in the classic sense. But I think Wolf is in the same category as other films we have reviewed this year – that of the anti-hero. We see this same pattern in American Hustle where none of the players has any moral character. We also saw this in Pain & Gain where main characters were hoodlums.

I think we like to see the decadent side of life. In the case of American Hustle we see an FBI agent who is overcome by his desire to be a great agent. In Pain we see three men who want to take another man’s wealth. And in Wolf we see Belfort who rises to the top and gains everything only to lose it to his greed. I think all three of these stories are cautionary tales and align pretty well with mythological stories that want to teach us a lesson: be successful, but keep your head.

At least we see the lead character in American Hustle show compassion and attempt to make a change in his life. In The Wolf of Wall Street, the villainous lead characters are villainous to the bitter end.  I’m afraid the wolves in this movie were just not worth watching, especially not for three hours. I do admire Scorsese’s movie-making style, and DiCaprio delivers what is arguably the best performance of his career.  For those reasons I’m willing to generously award Wolf 2 Reels out of 5. There is no hero story at all, no transformation, no positive mentoring, no sign of the classic hero journey.  Just a steady downward spiral for our villains. For that reason, I can only give this movie 1 Hero out of 5.

Movie: reel-2 Hero: superman-1

I agree that The Wolf of Wall Street is a masterfully created film. Martin Scorsese delivers and wrings the most from his actors. This is clearly the story of rise and fall of a giant. I did see an arc here. Bermont starts out innocent, is corrupted by an anti-mentor in the form of his boss (played by Matthew McConaughey). You and I have been talking about reviewing villains in 2014 and I think this is the origin story of a true villain. Our “hero” loses his caring and selflessness and becomes corrupt. Then we watch him fall from the highest of heights to the lowest of lows. It’s a skillfully produced story and one I’m willing to give it 3 Reels out of 5 (I would have gone to 4 if it had come in under 2 hours).

I think we’re going to have to give considerable thought to anti-hero stories in 2014. We’ve seen a few this year and there is a clear pattern. Belfort, in my mind, qualifies as an anti-hero. He doesn’t fit our usual expectations of heroes in the classic sense so it is difficult to give him a hero rating. But since he can be held up as a cautionary tale, I’m going to give him 3 out of 5 Heroes.

Movie: reel-3 Hero: superman-3


  1. Kate says:

    The rating of a three on the hero scale??? is the first time I have experienced cognitive dissonance. Will the definition of the scale be changing with 2014??

  2. Kate says:

    Ok let me clarify!!! The first time in reading Reel Heroes that I have experienced cognitive dissonance 🙂

    • Greg Smith says:


      I’m looking at the “hero” as in the lead character in the story. The hero teaches a lesson. The hero is not necessarily “heroic” in the classic sense. Belfort is not a good person. He’s actually villainous. BUT, he is the lead character in the story and he follows an arc from a know-nothing inexperienced young man to the wolf of Wall Street. Then he falls. This is a cautionary tale. One can rise to the top but don’t get too greedy. Just like the legend of Icharus and the wax wings. When Icharus flew too close to the sun, the wings melted and he fell to earth. It’s a hero’s journey. The journey doesn’t always end happily. Sometimes it ends in utter failure. As was the case for Belfort. So, 3 Heroes could be too low. I could convince myself that he deserved 4 Heroes.


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