The Wolf of Wall Street Misses an Opportunity
Martin Scorsese’s new film, The Wolf of Wall Street, is boasts an all-star cast and exhibits outstanding cinematography. The movie spends three hours cataloguing the excesses of Jordan Belfort, the President of Stratton Oakmont, a penny stock brokerage firm. Mr. Scorsese based the movie on a book written by Mr. Belfort. I am afraid Mr. Scorsese’s collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio has missed its mark.
For starters, the movie could have been shortened by an hour. It doesn’t take long for viewers to understand that Mr. Belfort likes to snort cocaine, swallow Quaaludes, and have sex.
Second, the movie isn’t about Wall Street. Although lower Manhattan makes for a better backdrop, Stratton Oakmont was located on Long Island. More importantly, Mr. Scorsese muddies the image of a boiler room operation by moving Stratton Oakmont into a brightly lit trading floor with fancy offices. Since these firms conduct business over the telephone, there’s no reason to create an attractive workspace.
Ironically, Mr. Scorsese’s film serves to reinforce Mr. Belfort’s ongoing effort as a motivational speaker and marketing guru. The movie would lead you to believe that Mr. Belfort’s sales tactics and scripts were a sure-fire way to entice investors into buying questionable securities or any product. While a convincing sales pitch is necessary to close a transaction, much of the effort is a tedious series of failed phone calls. Moreover, the fierce loyalty of Stratton’s employees portrayed in the movie completely misses the ugly day-to-day dealings within the firm. I have little doubt that brokers continually fought over clients, telephone lists, and commissions. While the movie shows a few acts of generosity by Mr. Belfort, I’m sure that he was ruthless in firing personnel and running the firm.
Furthermore, the boiler room brokerage operations depicted in the film aren’t victimless crimes. In Mr. Scorsese’s film the people on the other end of the phone are invisible. In my view, we should be less upset by Mr. Belfort’s personal excesses and far more outraged by his business practices. Mr. Scorsese has taken Mr. Belfort’s book at face value, so Belfort, his family, and colleagues appear to be victims of their appetites.
Wolf isn’t a documentary, so Mr. Scorsese isn’t responsible for trying to give us an accurate picture of Wall Street. It is supposed to be entertainment. However, the movie spends almost all of its time chronicling excess, depravity, and immorality, and therefore sends the wrong message about the financial services industry. The fundamental problem of Wall Street is that its pernicious business practices are wrapped in normalcy. While a certain segment of Wall Street frequents strip clubs, drinks vast quantities of alcohol, and acquires showy luxuries, much of the Street spends its time in front of computer screens, closeted in endless meetings, and commuting to and from work. Of course, the reality of Wall Street wouldn’t make a very good movie.