Jordan Belfort is feeling bullish about his future.
In 1987, the 22-year-old lands on Wall Street, hungry to reap the fortune he believes the stock market holds for him. But his tenure at the prestigious, old-school Rothschild brokerage has barely begun when Black Monday (Oct. 19, 1987) wipes a then-mindboggling 508 points off the Dow Jones Industrial Average … and takes Belfort's nascent career right down the drain with it.
The Wolf of Wall Street, based on Jordan Belfort's real-life memoir of the same name, fleshes out (quite literally, as it turns out) what happens next.
Unemployed and feeling like he's been mauled by a bear, Belfort stumbles into a small-time penny-stock trading company on Long Island. Though the miniscule stock sales there represent only a small fraction of the money he'd been handling before, the margin—the percentage commission Belfort will actually be paid—is massive. As in 50%, compared to 1%.
So Belfort hatches a vision that will make him and the young predators he quickly recruits millionaires many times over: peddling profitable penny stocks to rich dupes, then raking in the commissions.
Belfort's appetite for riches knows no bounds. Soon, he and his right-hand man, Danny Azoff, as well as a cadre of swagger-filled, conscience-free young turks are literally rolling in cash—not to mention having sex on piles of it and snorting cocaine through it. Never mind that Belfort and Co.'s cunningly calculated efforts to bilk investors are utterly, totally and completely illegal. Never mind that Belfort's ravenous, cavernous greed torpedoes his first marriage and will ultimately crater his second. Never mind that Belfort is now on the take-down to-do list of straight-laced FBI agent Patrick Denham.
Never mind any of that.
Because the only thing that matters to Jordan Belfort is making one dollar more.
And then another.
And then another.
Belfort's father serves as something of a (very) small voice of reason amid the carnage and obscenity. He's inexplicably brought into the brokerage to make sure things don't get too out of hand. He utterly fails, of course, but he does tell his son that eventually "the chickens will come home to roost." And so they do, as Belfort's second wife files for divorce and Agent Denham eventually nabs Belfort and sends him to prison for three years.
Before that happens, Belfort and Denham have a lengthy conversation during which the broker tries, ever so subtly, to bribe the FBI agent. Denham is as principled as Belfort is unscrupulous, however, resisting temptation even as Belfort demeans the hardworking and conscientious agent for making so little money. After Belfort is imprisoned, we see Denham riding the subway, with an expression on his face suggesting that integrity ultimately matters more than living a life of luxury.
We hear a conversation speculating about whether Buddhists and even the Amish are motivated by greed. When it looks as though Belfort's yacht is going to be swamped and that everyone aboard will die, Danny screams that he doesn't want to go to hell. Belfort later recognizes that perhaps God spared them, saying he's going to clean up his act and try to make a more honest living. Someone quips that nuns are all lesbians. We hear a version of Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson," which includes the lines, "Heaven holds a place for those who pray" and "Jesus loves you more than you will know."
By my count, there are 22 sex scenes in this movie. (But it's an admittedly difficult tally to be dogmatic about since sometimes it's hard to tell when one ends and another begins.)
Among many, many, many other things, oral sex is graphically merged with other sex acts involving a threesome. It is also given screen time in settings that are public, and within the confines of a moving vehicle (involving the driver). A multitude of sex acts with mostly naked prostitutes are also performed in public, as well as on an airplane. A post-orgy scene revels in the revelers' nudity. Sexual fondling becomes assault when it is done to an unconscious woman at one point. There are multiple scenes of full-frontal female nudity; an S&M sequence; an orgy composed entirely of gay male couples (in which we see explicit sexual movements); multiple heterosexual sex scenes (again with explicit movements and sounds), some of them mingling drugs and private body parts; and an office party that features yet another group of topless strippers and prostitutes. The film goes so far as fully showing a man's erect penis (a prosthesis, according to press reports).
We hear references to incest (Danny is married to a first cousin), the importance of masturbation as a stress reliever, jokes about men performing oral sex on other men, a conversation between Belfort and his father about women shaving their genitals, a reference to a pornographic magazine, a story about a woman in the office who performed oral sex on every male employee, and multiple comments about using prostitutes and having to get penicillin shots after contracting STDs. Dialogue also repeatedly references virtually every possible crude, vulgar and obscene slang word for the male and female sexual anatomy.
Belfort essentially rapes his wife. We see her physically resist, then see the couple having intercourse, still obviously against Naomi's wishes. Following that forced encounter …
… Belfort brutally hits her three times when she tells him she wants a divorce. He then grabs their preschool age daughter and attempts to run off with her before accidentally ramming his car into a wall. (The girl is unhurt; Belfort's head is bloodied.)
Belfort, badly impaired by Quaaludes, hits all sorts of obstacles with his Lamborghini. In a similarly sloppy state, he "successfully" crash-lands his helicopter in his back yard. He orders his yacht's captain into a horrific storm, which capsizes the boat. A plane explodes in midair after hitting a bird.
Danny nearly chokes to death while on Quaaludes. (Belfort eventually pounds on the man's chest until he spits out a mouthful of food.) Two guys in Belfort's posse beat up his gay housekeeper, bloodying the man's face before dangling him over a skyscraper railing. We see a picture of one of Belfort's employees who's apparently committed suicide by slitting his wrists in a bathtub.
Crude or Profane Language
All told, well more than 700 profanities, vulgarities and obscenities crowd every square inch of The Wolf of Wall Street. And a handful more than 525 are f-words, with some used sexually and others getting combined with "mother." (It's the most f-words Plugged In has ever counted in a movie, and is being reported as the most f-words in any mainstream non-documentary movie ever made.) Add to that 70-plus s-words, 35 to 40 misuses of God's name (10 or so paired with "d‑‑n"), nearly 25 abuses of Jesus' name, about 20 crude references to the male anatomy (including "c‑‑k," "c‑‑‑s‑‑‑er," "d‑‑k" and "p‑‑‑k"), three uses of the female-denigrating "c‑‑t" and two of "p‑‑‑y." There are also between 40 and 50 other vulgarities and slurs, including, "f-g," "f-ggot," "b‑‑ch," "b‑‑tard," "h‑‑‑," "p‑‑‑," "douche bag," "retard," "whore" and "jerk-off." We see perhaps half-a-dozen obscene hand gestures.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Scene after scene after scene show Belfort and his buds popping Quaaludes (about which we get a lengthy history lesson) and snorting lines of cocaine. Alcohol of all kinds is equally ubiquitous.
Belfort is repeatedly impaired by way of all those substances. He's so dedicated to getting himself thoroughly plastered, in fact, that before a planned bender on "vintage" Quaaludes one night, we see him giving himself an enema to make sure he doesn't soil himself. While high, a long, painful scene involves him trying to crawl to his car, a path that takes him painfully down a flight of stairs.
We hear Belfort talk about all the drugs he's addicted to, as well as all the drugs he has to take just to stay functional during the day. Other references are made to marijuana, Adderall, Xanax and morphine. There's talk of drug dealers.
Clean by film's end, Belfort tells Danny, "Being sober sucks. I wanna kill myself." A relapse proves his point.
Other Negative Elements
A pathetic and painful scene involves the guys at the brokerage tossing little people at a Velcro target. A lengthy scene later on finds Belfort and his friends contractually parsing how they can and cannot exploit the little people they're hired as entertainment.
Marriage is repeatedly demeaned as causing nothing but unhappiness for men trapped in it. Danny fires an employee who's cleaning his goldfish bowl … then eats the goldfish. A significant portion of the film deals with how Belfort and his cronies travel to Switzerland to set up an elaborate smuggling system.
Jordan Belfort blows the lid off just about every jar of horribleness a scriptwriter could ever conceive of. He does it in such an outrageously obscene way that he makes infamous greedmeister Gordon Gekko (from the 1987 Oliver Stone film Wall Street) look merely like a giggling greenhorn in comparison.
And he makes me honestly wonder why you're still reading this review.
Honestly, I wish I weren't still writing it, because there's just not much more I can say here.
Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street is among the most bludgeoning—if not the most bludgeoning—films ever to be granted an R rating. Indeed, much has been made of the fact that it barely escaped an NC-17.
It should not have.
There is—ostensibly, theoretically—a cautionary tale about the perils of lust and greed woven into Jordan Belfort's story. But since the film concludes with him getting paid to give motivational speeches sort of soils that suggestion. That, and the fact that all along the way we're invited to cheer for this ruthlessly greedy, sexually predatory, chemically dependent, foul-mouthed and narcissistic antihero. Invited to want him to somehow escape the judgment he should assuredly face.