Martin Scorsese has always been fascinated by organized crime. Ironically, his latest crime saga, “The Wolf of Wall Street,” is free of bullets, but he makes it clear that the world of white collar crime can be of far higher economic stakes than that of the gangster world.
“The Wolf of Wall Street” was a moniker that Forbes Magazine bestowed upon Bay Terrace native Jordan Belfort when he was making the firm he founded with buddy Daniel Porush — renamed in the film as Donny Azoff and portrayed by Jonah Hill — Great Neck-based Stratton Oakmont, into the largest over-the-counter brokerage house in the country.
The film opens in the fall of 1987 with a young Belfort — Leonardo DiCaprio — eagerly looking forward to get his foot into the door at a fictitious Manhattan investment firm. His mentor is fast-talking Mark Hanna — Matthew McConaughey — who takes him to lunch on his first day and gives one of the most memorable pep talks in movie history.
Unfortunately, on “Black Monday,” Oct. 19, 1987, the New York Stock Exchange lost 508 points, which was a major percentage back then. Belfort’s firm goes belly-up and so it appears is his dream of becoming a stockbroker.
Jordan knows little about the world of “thinly capitalized” corporations but his ears perk up when he hears that commissions can be 50 percent of the revenue that he collects from clients, which is a lot better than the 1 percent he was earning on the trade of Fortune 500 stocks.
All he needs to do is cold call a few folks and work his sales magic. Belfort has the knack for getting people to part with their cash even when they are hemming and hawing.
Financial success was certainly a huge motivator for Jordan but the true fun was indulging in wonton excess whether it be buying the biggest mansion, the longest yacht, or the most sought-after women, the ultimate trophy wife and the finest cocaine and Quaaludes.
Martin Scorsese spends a lot of time filming these indulgences and it needlessly bloats the film to a three-hour running time.
A perversely funny scene is where Jordan and his not-too-bright lieutenant, Donny, are in a conference room seemingly oblivious to the SEC enforcers going through their records while they are more concerned about arranging a dwarf-tossing event.
Rob Reiner, who has done more directing than acting since his “All In The Family” days, has a small but meaty role as Jordan’s father, Max. Deep down he knows that Jordan is involved in insider trading and market manipulation, which are all federal crimes of course, but doesn’t say anything because he is thrilled that his kid is not living the mundane middle-class life that has always been his anonymous existence.
Scorsese is a native New Yorker and he makes good use of Queens.
Jordan meets Donny while he is having a bite at the Kaskades Diner, which many will recognize as the iconic Rego Park restaurant, the Shalimar Diner. DiCaprio is spectacular as Jordan Belfort and it is probably worth the price of a movie ticket just to watch him. On the other hand, there is something disappointing about “The Wolf of Wall Street,” besides its long running time.
Scorsese is known for his original work yet throughout this film you keep thinking of other movies where you have seen the same thing and I don’t just mean Oliver Stone’s 1987 “Wall Street,” which is referenced here.
Jordan’s speech where he tells brokers who can’t close that they ought to work in McDonald’s is a pale copy of Alec Baldwin’s memorable gut-kicking speech in “Glengarry Glen Ross.”
The uneasy finale where a drugged-out Jordan and his soon-to-be estranged wife Naomi are fighting tooth and nail is right out of “Scarface.” Belfort serves as a narrator in the film to guide us through the craziness and he even sounds a bit like Ray Liotta in Scorsese’s own “Goodfellas.”
The topic of penny stocks and market manipulation was handled better in a far less bombastic way in 2000's “Boiler Room,” which starred Giovanni Ribisi and was coincidentally also filmed in Queens.