POSTED January 8 2014

Who’s afraid of the big bad “Wolf of Wall Street”?

Ben Affleck in "Boiler Room"

Ben Affleck in “Boiler Room”

Don’t want to add to the critical crossfire waged between the defenders and detractors of Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, which is really a gunfight about masculinity and morality, but…

The film’s defenders, among them Matt Zoller Seitz and Richard Brody, establish the connection with Scorsese’s prior movies about alpha males and the gamma guys in thrall to them. Its detractors, among them David Edelstein and Richard Corliss, believe it’s a turgid movie in need of a pacemaker and a moral compass. I’m of the latter camp. The screenplay is structured like a college-admissions essay: Tell ’em what you’re gonna say (greed buys you Bond-villain boats and beautiful women) say it (greed buys you… etc) and tell them what you said (greed buys you…etc). Its moral is that, greed, like cocaine. requires greater and greater consumption in order to produce the high. Hard to be afraid of the big bad wolf of Wall Street when the biopic is so redundant.

Many times while watching WoWS I thought of Ben Younger’s Boiler Room (2000), likewise inspired by Jordan Belfort’s brass. Because the story is seen through the eyes of a young broker (Giovanni Ribisi), the gamma guy who wants to be Belfort-like Ben Affleck, it shows both the demonic charisma of the corruptor and the ingenuous worship of the corrupted who comes to see the immorality and illegality of his complicity. It’s a different, some might say earnest, version of the same story, but I admired its economy and Younger’s understanding that when it comes to showing the devil, less is more.



  1. Scorsese and his defenders seem to think the movie works like a piece of poisoned candy, but either he’s deceiving his audience or he’s giving them what they came for and what the ads promised them. Personally I think it’s the latter, and for that reason I think the movie exploits some of the same doublethink it’s claiming to dismantle. It doesn’t threaten, it titillates, and it’s working from the template of Raging Bull as well as GoodFellas. For me it adds up to another blinkered movie about blinkered people, a Hollywood specialty.

  2. Mark Schaffer says:

    Its really a Scorcese working class American success story…the guy really was small time, for all the blather. I liked the class angle, where Belfort, a nobody with the gift of gab, goes at it against the manor born Wall Street crowd and pretty much loses.. In a way, the whole 80 and 90s Wall Street insanity was led by actual street hustlers from the Bronx and Brooklyn who brought their macho game Wall Street. They changed the rules, made lots of money for people, and ultimately were sacrificed by the old crowd. very entertaining, with great improv scenes. Why is everyone’s knickers in a twist. Its America, folks, home of the main chance.

  3. jack says:

    I found the film intentionally excessive, trying to show us the excessiveness that was 1980’s wall street. Not having seen Boiler Room, I may be totally off…

  4. Your description of the movie’s structure has convinced me not to see it, at least until it appears on cable. I used to work with a colleague who structured all of his business meetings (and non-business colloquy, if you can call it that) in the same way: he would tell you what he was about to tell you, restate it in slightly more detail, and then repeat the entire message. The result was everything with him took an extra 66% of total time. Horrible but it didn’t impede his corporate rise. He’s now a kind of high-ish publicity captain of media industry who pursues his relentless, hot air-filled professional agenda in person, in print and online leaving a profound carbon footprint. But I really love Martin Scorcese and am prepared to forgive a lot — even that awful Rolling Stones documentary I just saw.

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