But there is a dark side. I was worried the film might glorify greed, as Oliver Stone’s Wall Street did back in 1987. Not intentionally, mind you. I don’t think Stone or Martin Scorsese, who directed The Wolf Of Wall Street, are big fans of unbridled capitalism, let alone greed. But, for the millions of meatheads who watch these films, bilking money from your fellow man might look kind of cool.
Wall Street and its brokers have been increasingly vilified since 1987, given the track record of everything from greedy profit-mongering to outright fraud being perpetrated by companies and individuals alike. The most notorious white-collar criminal may be ex-broker and former NASDAQ chairman turned investment adviser Bernie Madoff, who has become the posterchild for today’s greed and corruption. People loathe the man.
But Jordan Belfort, the actual “wolf” of Wall Street upon whose book this film is based, comes out looking like a rock star. Leonardo DiCaprio glamorizes the man on the silver screen. Rather than dwelling on Belfort’s criminal ways, or the thousands of hardworking Americans from whom he stole literally millions of hard-earned dollars, the film portrays him as a charming, likable guy who happened to fall “victim” to the pitfalls of making too much money too fast.
True, there is a difference in scale between Madoff and Belfort. The former stole billions while the latter only managed to get away with millions. But the real difference, and the reason I don’t expect a Hollywood film – entitled How I Madoff With Your Money and starring Robert De Niro – to glamorize Madoff’s exploits, is that Madoff defrauded the one percent…the rich folks. Belfort swindled working-class investors…the common man. Common men don’t fund Hollywood blockbusters…rich folks do.
Is it a coincidence that the year Wall Street came out was the same year that Belfort became a licensed stock broker? Most likely. Did that film and the lifestyle it portrays encourage him to head down the sinister path which he chose? Most likely. And that’s what troubles me most about this film, that it glamorizes white collar crime.
Believe it or not, Belfort is already out of prison, having served only two years after he ratted out his friends and colleagues and agreed to pay back a fraction of the money he swindled from his former clients. Yet, despite claiming to have reformed himself, he’s barely made a dent in that promised restitution.
He now makes his money as a motivational speaker, teaching his manipulative ways to sorry suckers looking for a shortcut to success. And I imagine his seminar fees have doubled since the release of his book and this film, though apparently the feds are looking to garnish some of the millions he has made from profiting off his crimes and give that back to the folks he defrauded – something Belfort himself has promised to do but failed to deliver. Once a liar, always a liar.