‘The Wolf of Wall Street’


Special To The Japan Times

I’m working on a screenplay which, as they say in the industry, is “inspired by true events”. It’s about an actor — let’s call him Leo — who at a very early stage in his career co-stars with his idol — let’s call him Bobby — who’s the most intense and driven actor of his generation.

From that point on, Leo wants to be Bobby. He tries hard, but then he stars in a romance-cum-disaster flick that makes him the pretty-boy crush for every teenage girl on the planet. The movie — a titanic success — captures just about every Academy Award there is, except, pointedly, best actor.

The Wolf of Wall Street
Director Martin Scorsese
Run Time 179 minutes
Language English

Leo develops a chip on his shoulder, but now he is A-list and fantastically wealthy and can do anything he wants. He calls a director — let’s call him Marty — who made a string of acclaimed films with Bobby back in the day. It’s a Faustian deal: Leo desperately wants to be taken seriously, and Marty is in desperate need of financing for his non-mainstream films; win-win, right? And yet, somehow it’s not the same. Leo, desperate to prove his chops and refute that pretty-boy image, winds up playing a series of nasty, twisted old men such as Howard Hughes and J. Edgar Hoover, performances that are a chore to sit through and still never land him that Oscar.

My screenplay, despite being the work of an amateur, would at least have something that the real-life Marty and Leo’s latest movie, “The Wolf of Wall Street,” does not: character motivation.

In “The Wolf of Wall Street,” we meet a Bronx-born hustler named Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), who aspires to become a broker and rich, which are usually the same thing in Manhattan. He wants this in the first reel (“I’m 22 and already a money-crazed little sh-t”) and he wants it in the last, and he changes little along the way, rolling in cash, whores, blow, insider trading and conspicuous spending until the feds catch up with him. But what makes him this way?

That, we don’t know. In Scorsese’s world, greed just is. You could say this is an indictment of Wall Street, that Scorsese is deliberately taking his mafia movie rep (“Goodfellas” et al.) and rubbing it onto broker culture. You could say this is a movie that pinpoints the American dream as to get rich quick and screw everyone else.

But more than anything, “Wolf” is a film about addiction — to sex, to money and to drugs — sinking to almost Hunter S. Thompson-esque levels of depravity. The relationship between Belfort and his No. 2 man Donnie (Jonah Hill) seems to be nothing so much as a metaphor for the enabling friendship that existed between Scorsese and musician Robbie Robertson (who, not surprisingly, does the soundtrack here) in the cocaine-fueled 1970s, which ended only when Scorsese found himself hospitalized and near death.

As a portrait of cocaine-induced psychosis, this movie succeeds wildly. But, as anyone who’s ever known a coke-head can tell you, you don’t want to be in the same room with them for too long. By the time DiCaprio launches into his umpteenth indulgent Mussolini-faced vein-bulging profanity-loaded rant, you’ll have long since gotten the point. We wait to discover any sort of redeeming qualities or relatable insecurities with Belfort; unlike Christian Bale’s equally sleazy con-man in the far more entertaining “American Hustle,” there are none.